John Swinney warns Scottish Government faces 'enormous financial pressure' as he sets out priorities

The Scottish Government is facing “enormous financial pressure”, John Swinney has warned MSPs.

The new First Minister was making a statement in parliament today outlining his new administration's priorities between now and the 2026 Holyrood election.

Swinney, who replaced Humza Yousaf in the top job earlier this month, has previously said he wanted to focus on eradicating child poverty across the country.

But that mission could be made much more difficult by financial pressures facing SNP ministers.

The First Minister said today he would publish a revised tax strategy for Scots within weeks.

The Scottish Government has already faced a backlash after it slashed £196m from the affordable housing budget in February.

And Holyrood's top civil servant warned further spending reductions would still be required in order to balance the books.

The First Minister told MSPs: “The Finance Secretary will update Parliament on our expectations of the financial position, but I can say to Parliament today that the cumulative effect of the high inflation we have experienced, austerity, and Brexit is placing enormous financial pressure on the resources available to the Government – and will have an effect on the priorities we can deliver.”

It comes after an SNP MSP has blasted the Scottish Government after the publication of vital spending plans was delayed by the resignation of Yousaf.

Kenny Gibson, convenor of Holyrood's finance committee, hit out after being told the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) would not now be published until June 20.

It means MSPs will have just one week to scrutinise the document before the Scottish Parliament breaks for the summer.

Swinney attempted today to point the finger of blame on the UK Government following comments made by Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting who said “all roads lead to Westminster” when talking about the performance of the NHS in Wales.

He said: “There is a developing consensus on where responsibility for those funding decisions ultimately lies.”

He continued: “The comment from Wes Streeting demonstrates the source of the significant financial challenges that we face.

“The prolonged era of austerity delivered by the UK Government over the last 14 years is having a profound effect on the fiscal context in which we are operating.”

The First Minister also stressed he did not want to “tackle” or “reduce” child poverty, but to alleviate it altogether.

“Because child poverty stunts the progress of any nation and stands in the way of both social justice and economic growth,” he said.

“My cabinet will do everything in our power – including listening to and working with Members from across this chamber – to achieve our aim.”

The First Minister pointed to the Scottish Child Payment and the forgiving of school meal debt as two moves already taken, while stressing that a key way to alleviate poverty was to enable “parents and carers to enter sustainable employment”.

Swinney also announced the Programme for Government – in which ministers set out their plans for the coming year – will take place before Holyrood breaks for its summer recess at the end of June.

The statement is traditionally made by the First Minister when Holyrood returns from recess in September.

Swinney said his Programme for Government will be “central to a wider range of decision-making that will happen before the summer on key issues on energy, on oil and gas, on reform of the health service, and on taxation”.

The First Minister said a “revised tax strategy” together with an updated infrastructure investment plan will also be published, detailing “critical information on the challenges we face in the public finances and the actions this Government is taking to address them”.

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