Budget delivers priorities of progressive government, says Swinney

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has said his tax and spending plans for the next year deliver on the “priorities of a progressive government”.

Speaking in the stage one debate on the budget, John Swinney urged MSPs to back the Bill.

Under plans initially announced in December, taxes on the highest earners in Scotland will increase in response to rising inflation.

Mr Swinney set out plans to raise taxes on higher earners, with the top rate threshold reducing from £150,000 to £125,140, as well as an increase of 1p to the higher and top rates to 42p and 47p respectively.

Business rates, the Deputy First Minister also announced, would be frozen for the forthcoming year under the proposals.

Mr Swinney also announced plans to uprate all devolved Scottish benefits by the November inflation rate of 10.1% at a cost of £420 million.

Speaking to MSPs on Thursday, he said: “This budget delivers the priorities of a progressive government.

“It provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate how we can collaboratively and successfully as a Parliament, in the most difficult of times, deliver support and the best outcomes to the people of Scotland.

“I believe this budget represents a fair and ambitious package and I urge all members across the chamber to support it today.”

Mr Swinney also said that, along with the Greens – who entered into an agreement with the Scottish Government that all but guarantees the passage of the budget without the need for opposition votes – “we are working to create a progressive path for Scotland”.

The Government said the budget this year focuses on the priorities of eradicating child poverty, delivering a just transition to net-zero, and providing sustainable public services.

But local authorities have hit out at what they say is a lack of funding, claiming the £550 million cash increase could be as low as £71 million once Government ring-fencing of money is taken into account.

In a briefing, council body Cosla said its members are considering up to 7,100 job cuts over the next three years as a result of funding pressures.

The debate on the budget was enlivened as a result of outcry from the Scottish Conservative benches, with MSP Stephen Kerr accusing Finance and Public Administration Committee convener Kenneth Gibson of making a speech that was too political, describing the comments as a “second Government speech”.

Economic recovery in Scotland
Liz Smith said structural weaknesses were caused by the SNP rather than Westminster (Fraser Bremner)

Speaking for the Conservatives, Liz Smith said the Scottish economy was underperforming compared to the rest of the UK.

“Structural weaknesses” in the Scottish economy are due to choices made by the SNP rather than Westminster, she said.

Ms Smith added: “Mr Swinney has had more money from the UK government than he has been prepared to admit.”

She acknowledged it is not currently possible to remove income tax differentials with the rest of the UK despite this being the Conservatives’ preference.

The additional income tax will raise less than 0.2% of the Scottish budget, she said, making it “very much a political choice of the SNP, rather than helping the economy”.

Ms Smith said the Scottish Government should scrap its plans for a National Care Service.

She concluded: “We do not believe that the SNP’s priorities are in line with the priorities of the people of Scotland.”

Labour’s Daniel Johnson said the Budget contained “no new plans, no new solutions, no new answers” to the problems facing Scotland.

He repeated Labour’s call for pay in the social care sector to be increased to a minimum of £12 an hour, saying this would cost between £150 million and £200 million.

Setting out how this could be afforded, he said: “Pause the National Care Service which would save £95 million in the coming year.

“That’s where £12 an hour can be found, it is affordable.

“But instead this government chooses to pursue a ministerial power grab instead of doing what would be right – paying social care workers a fair wage.”