Budget (Scotland) (No 4) Bill: Stage 3

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:35 pm on 13th February 2003.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:35 pm, 13th February 2003

The next item of business is stage 3 consideration of the Budget (Scotland) (No 4) Bill. There being no amendments to the bill, we will move straight to the debate on motion S1M-3886, in the name of Mr Andy Kerr, that the bill be passed.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. This is stage 3 of the bill, and we had the stage 2 debate in committee on Tuesday this week. I wanted to refer in my speech—in a helpful and consensual manner, as you would expect—to some things that the minister said in that debate, but the Official Report of the debate in committee is not available today. I understand that it will not be available until next week, either in printed form or on the web. Will you rule on whether it is proper to proceed with a stage 3 debate when we do not have a record of the stage 2 debate?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The answer is yes, it is proper so to do. It is not a matter of standing orders that the information should be available from the earlier Official Report . It may be regrettable that it is not, but I am afraid that there is nothing I can do to assist. Let us celebrate the fact that, at least on this issue, we will know what the Executive is proposing before the election. That was an in-joke referring to this morning's proceedings.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Is it in order for the Presiding Officer to make comments about what will or will not be in any political party's manifesto? It seems somewhat partial in your position.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

It was probably somewhat partial, so I should not have said it.

I call Peter Peacock.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 3:37 pm, 13th February 2003

This debate marks the final stage of this year's budget process. I should probably pause for cheers at that point, at least from all the finance spokesmen around the chamber. I know that the process can sometimes seem like an endurance test, particularly at this time of year, but that should not detract from the importance of the work that we do and the way in which we handle important financial matters.

During the past three years, we have established a consultative budget process that has achieved a genuine degree of engagement from the wider public. It is transparent and open, and there have been many opportunities not just for the Parliament but for the public to have a say in our deliberations and in the debate about the budget. That is due not only to the Executive, but to the diligence of the Finance Committee and the other committees of the Parliament. I would genuinely like to thank them again, not only for the diligence that they show but for the constructive attitude that the Finance Committee has always shown in relation to the budget process and how it can be improved.

I have previously mentioned my view that the budget process could be further improved. Indeed, I rehearsed many possibilities with the Finance Committee during its stage 2 consideration of the bill on Tuesday. I look forward to the committee's work on that in the future. The Executive will work closely with the committee to make what could be fairly fundamental changes to the procedures as we move into future years, without in any way compromising the openness and scrutiny of the process.

The constructive attitude of the Finance Committee was evident on Tuesday. For the first time, the Executive proposed a number of amendments to the bill to alter the presentation of student loans in the 2001-02 budget and to correct some minor errors in this year's budget. I am glad to say that the committee accepted all the Executive's amendments and I am grateful to committee members for their assistance in that process.

Members will be delighted to know that I do not intend to speak for very long this afternoon. Other members will want to contribute to the debate and I have already spoken for a considerable time in the four previous debates on this budget and on the spending review. Nevertheless, it is worth summarising what the budget will achieve.

Today's budget is one for growth and opportunity for the people of Scotland. We are aware of the need to improve Scotland's economic growth rate and we have put in place a series of measures to achieve that, focusing on skills and investment, which are closely aligned to the business agenda in Scotland. This morning, I took place in a debate organised by the Confederation of British Industry, looking at its manifesto for business in the future. Much of the Executive's activity is aligned to that agenda.

Through the budget, we will increase the number of people in work and undertaking training. The budget will trigger improved access to modern technology through broadband technology in urban and rural Scotland, for example. We will close the gap in employment rates between those in the worst 10 per cent of areas and the Scottish average and we will assist 150 joint academic and industry ventures by 2006—that will be enabled by the budget. As members know, we have made a commitment to freeze Scottish business rates, limit future rises in rate poundages to the rate of inflation and institute a system of rates relief for smaller businesses throughout Scotland.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I refer the minister to page 143 of "Scotland's Budget Documents 2003-04", which mentions Highlands and Islands Enterprise and digital connectivity. It shows 30 per cent the population in the Highlands and Islands having broadband access in the current year and exactly the same proportion for 2003-04. That does not seem to square with the minister's suggestion that broadband access will be increasingly available in rural areas—at least in the Highlands and Islands—and it is somewhat curious, given the programme of aggregated public sector demand that we always believed would deliver additional broadband access in the Highlands and Islands. When will there be greater availability?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I am happy to reassure Stewart Stevenson that he has no reason to be concerned about such matters. The budget and our future spending plans provide for a dramatic increase in broadband connectivity. Only a week ago, I saw television adverts that were funded by the Executive through Highlands and Islands Enterprise. They sought to target businesses and individuals in the Highlands to encourage them take up broadband technology and therefore create the demand that will help to roll out broadband.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I would like to finish what I am saying.

On the second point that Stewart Stevenson made, significant progress is being made more widely in the Highlands and Islands in relation to the aggregated procurement exercise. That will see the whole of the Highlands and Islands—every school and library in the area and many public buildings and public authorities—connected to broadband technology. In fact, adverts for expressions of interest have been put out and a great number of expressions of interest have been received. Those are being sifted and we will move to the next stage of the procurement process very quickly indeed. There is no reason to be alarmed, but there is every reason to be encouraged.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

I certainly hope that the legislation will be enabling legislation. The linkage into broadband must be emphasised. There cannot be linkage if there are no links. Does the minister realise how irritating it is for constituents in remote parts of my constituency who see such television adverts and submit an application? They want to be a part of things, but are told, "There is no link and we do not see it coming for a long time." Will that matter be resolved?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I think that it will, as the strategy that HIE is rightly pursuing is one of targeting advertising in particular locales, so that expressions of interest are generated that allow investments to be made. We have learned about such strategies from contact with the telecommunications companies. In addition, part of the logic of investing in broadband technology in the Highlands and Islands more widely through the aggregated procurement exercise is to allow the private sector to make further investments on the back of that, that will give the very connections that Margaret Ewing and all members seek.

Through our budget, we will invest heavily in education and transport, which are crucial to our long-term economic performance. In education, we will deliver unprecedented investment in schools and children's services and continue to spend significantly more per pupil than the United Kingdom average. Spending on transport will increase by more than 15 per cent next year. That means that we can complete four major trunk road schemes, meet our targets for increasing local bus passenger journeys in Scotland and provide funding that will allow ScotRail and Strathclyde Passenger Transport to improve rail services.

We will also deliver in our other priority areas of health and crime. In real terms, health spending will increase by almost 8 per cent next year. That investment will help us to invest in modern hospitals and equipment, train additional nurses and midwives and achieve our targets for improving the health of the Scottish people. On crime, we will maintain the record numbers of police officers, work towards further reductions in serious violent crime and continue the war on drug dealers.

The investment in public services meets the aspirations of the Scottish people and will help us to ensure that everybody in Scotland has access to education and health care in the kind of social environment that they need to prosper. By creating the conditions in which everyone in Scotland is able to fulfil their potential we can take further steps towards closing the opportunity gap.

Our investment in services is made possible by the outcome of the 2002 spending review, which provided for an average increase in public spending in real terms of 4.6 per cent over the next three years. The budget is delivered through the operation of the Barnett formula, which ensures that the extra resources are spent wisely within Scotland. The budget links resources to the Executive's priorities and it sets targets that demonstrate what we will achieve with the spending. We have set in place mechanisms to monitor performance against those targets. We expect to be scrutinised on delivery against those targets.

The budget is prudent in its approach, but ambitious in its aims. It combines a clear vision for the future with the resources to match that and the leadership to deliver. It will improve the quality of life of the people of all of Scotland—rural and urban.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Budget (Scotland) (No.4) Bill be passed.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 3:45 pm, 13th February 2003

I know that this is stage 3, but for some of us it feels like stage 93.

I have said before that I think that the budget documents are becoming much more helpful to members. They are a great improvement on what they were some years ago. However, I have one little caveat that also applies to most Executive documents and to many parliamentary reports; they could do with having a date of publication on them. The documents may have the year to which they refer on them but, once there is a series of those documents—given that the spin doctors keep changing the titles they give them; this one is called "Making it work together"—it is difficult in retrospect to discover which of them came first and which is the latest. Publication dates would be helpful.

The minister made a serious point about the repetitious nature of many of the finance and budget debates. I welcome the fact that he will look, along with the committee, at the number of debates that there are in the process. The experiment that we will have later in the year, when we will reduce the number of debates because the election will make it necessary for the process to be encapsulated in a shorter time scale, will indicate whether it is feasible to reduce the number of debates. It is clearly important that we still ensure that there is ample time for parliamentary scrutiny. All the indications are that we could still have the parliamentary scrutiny, but have fewer set-piece debates.

In the context of scrutiny, I welcome the fact that this year at one of the earlier stages we had for the first time a reasoned amendment, which suggested that the Executive make a change to the budget.

If it does not prove possible to reduce the number of debates, I suggest that some of them become more member oriented rather than party oriented. Individual members could, on a non-partisan basis, raise issues that are of concern to their constituencies and have a financial edge. That used to be the habit in the House of Commons many years ago: the consolidated fund debates were occasions for members to raise any matter of interest in their constituency. We could perhaps consider that approach.

I will introduce a slight element of controversy. I will raise two points about business rates, both of which I raised before but to neither of which I received a satisfactory answer.

First, we know that the business rate is higher in Scotland. We are told that because rateable values are lower in Scotland, due to the revaluation south of the border the bill for businesses north and south of the border is effectively the same. The problem is that for some sectors—small hotels and chemical plants are two examples—the valuation basis is the same north and south of the border. In the first case that is because it is done on the basis of turnover and in the second case valuers north and south of the border have agreed a harmonised basis on which to put their valuation. In those cases, because our rate is higher, such places north of the border get a higher bill than do similar premises south of the border. Will the minister at least admit that that is a problem in those sectors, even if he cannot guarantee that he will do something about it?

I have raised my second point several times before. We have been given the promise that the uniform business rate will not go up more than inflation over the next few years, but the rates bill depends on the rateable value. So, when the next revaluation in Scotland takes place shortly, some rateable values will go up and some will go down—but I suspect that the expectation must be that the total rateable value for the whole of Scotland will go up.

Given those circumstances, does the minister intend to adjust the UBR to ensure that the total Scottish business rates bill does not go up by more than inflation when the revaluation takes place or is he entertaining the notion of putting the total bill up by more than inflation? It should be simple for the minister to answer that question without committing himself. He has committed to raising the business rate by the level of inflation, so surely he could give that extra commitment. I would appreciate answers on those points.

To allow other members to speak, I will restrict my comments. I look forward to the day on which we finally discuss a complete budget, not one that concentrates on only part of Government expenditure in Scotland.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 3:50 pm, 13th February 2003

In the spirit of the debate, I, too, will refer back to the discussion that the Finance Committee had on Tuesday. I have been on the committee since the beginning and I have aged remarkably in that time. The budget process seems to be never-ending, but we are beginning to see a glimmer of usability in the documentation. Until this year, the subject committees found it difficult to participate in the budget process, which is why I look forward to the refinements that the minister mentioned on Tuesday. The idea is that we will have the statutory document that is required for audit purposes, but that something will be attached to it to allow the committees easily to access the level 3 information, which is what they need to do their work.

On a political note, I turn to the issue of business rates, which has been mentioned. As everybody knows, we would seek to return to the uniform business rate. I recently attended a business breakfast in Aberdeen at which Jack McConnell spoke. He seemed to realise that there is an element of overkill in the present situation, which is why there has been a freeze. That is an acknowledgement of the problem, but I want ministers to go further, to consider the matter thoroughly and to remove an anti-competitive element of the taxation on Scottish businesses.

The budget is based on tax, but there is an awful lot of waste. I welcome the money that has come to Scotland, much of it through the generous Barnett formula, which we have supported consistently, unlike the SNP. It is interesting that, at Westminster, the SNP supported the increase in national insurance contributions—I wonder how Mr Morgan will explain that to the business community. I welcome the extra money, but what extra services do we receive for it? As always, Peter Peacock was selective in telling us how wonderful the budget is and what will and will not happen. More taxes than ever are being taken from Scottish people and businesses and Gordon Brown is taking money out of pension funds—the list goes on. One would think that we would get much more for that extra money.

As the Minister for Health and Community Care is in the chamber, I ask him why accessible health services are not expanding, waiting times are up and staffing positions in the health service cannot be filled when extra money is going into the system. People are beginning to wonder about the amount of tax that they pay and the statements of how much is being spent, because they do not see differences in the street. The minister ought to focus more on that in the next budget process, assuming of course that he gets back to power and that he has responsibility in that area.

Council tax rates are being announced today—some of the announcements have come through already. In one council there is a 5.3 per cent increase and many others have increases of between 4 and 5 per cent. Again, money is going into the system, but what do we get for it?

Collection rates for council tax are poor and many law-abiding people who do their best to pay their council tax on time are carrying the burden of late payment and late collection by Scottish councils. That is unfair. We had a statement the other week about how we all paid the uncollected £133 million in the following year. What about the councils' cash flow? Councils in my part of the world are screaming about cash flow and the fact that they cannot repair the roads on time. The council in Aberdeenshire, where I live, and the neighbouring council in Aberdeen have made 37 per cent increases—

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I listen to what David Davidson says with interest. However, presumably, if the collection and late payment rates stay roughly the same, the cash flow stays pretty static. It is not affected.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Collection rates are assumed. The Minister for Finance and Public Services has told us that. Andy Kerr has also said that he is disappointed at the collection rate. Ministers agree with me on that point.

We look at the justice budget and see that we are arguing over the priorities. The Executive parties have increased the justice budget by only 1.3 per cent when the justice system needs more money.

We have mentioned business rates. I do not know what we will see in the Executive parties' manifestos. I have no idea whether the Liberals will propose measures such as the dog tax, the caravan tax—perhaps they will return to that—or a local tax. Iain Smith even managed to bring the euro into this morning's debate on tourism, although he had to struggle to do it.

The SNP has made many pledges. When Mr Adam speaks, will he quantify for us exactly how much the SNP's additional spending commitments add up to, where exactly that money will come from and how it will be funded? I think that Mr Adam is shaking his head, so perhaps the SNP has not worked that out itself. I have no doubt that the Scottish Executive can give him a running total.

The coming election is not about devolution and it is most certainly not about the constitution. It is about our economy and how we invest in our public services. I hope that others in the debate will take it down that route. In the meantime, an awful lot of money is going out and there is not a lot of improvement in the services coming back in.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 3:57 pm, 13th February 2003

I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats in support of the bill. The budget delivers strong growth for public services such as health and education, sustains the highest ever number of police officers and, I am particularly pleased to say, distributes more resources to our hard-pressed local authorities.

It is interesting to follow David Davidson, who spoke for the Conservatives. He talked about tax cuts. The Conservatives have promised to cut taxes and put those cuts before the delivery of our much-needed public services. We all just heard David Davidson talk about the election being about how we invest in our public services. I was rather taken aback by that. It is astounding to hear that from the Conservatives.

David Davidson talked about waste and taxation. The Conservatives have not proposed to increase investment in public services beyond what the Executive has outlined in the bill. That is plain. It is as plain as the nose on David Davidson's face.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I think that Mr Rumbles missed a point that I made on priorities.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Our priorities are more about spending on infrastructure that the Executive parties' are. We have said what the figures are. That is only one example of how Mr Rumbles chooses to be different, I suppose.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

David Davidson cons only himself with such comments. I refer to what he said in his speech. I wrote it down. He talked about poor council tax collection rates. In fact, excellent collection rates exist. For instance, Aberdeenshire Council, the authority that covers his and my areas, has a council tax collection rate of over 94 per cent. That is a long cry from poor collection rates under the poll tax, which the Tories introduced disastrously during their time in government.

We take no lessons from the Conservatives on how to produce a budget bill. It is a bit rich for them to criticise the bill and then talk about how they will invest our money in increased public services when their whole intention is to reduce taxation and reduce spending on public service. That is somewhat dishonest—I am not sure whether I can use the word "dishonest" in the Parliament—although perhaps not deliberately so. However, anyone listening to the debate would be very surprised to hear David Davidson's comments.

The bill is clearly beneficial to the people of Scotland. Overall, investment in public services is increasing in real terms. I wish in particular to highlight the increased investment in health, and I am pleased to see that the Minister for Health and Community Care is here to listen. Investment in health is, as the Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Services said, up by more than 8 per cent. The local government budget, which includes investment in schools, has increased dramatically too. That is real investment for improved public services.

While I very much welcome the increase in funds that the Executive has made available in the health budget, which means that the national health service in Grampian has more investment than ever before, it would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity to press once again for an early review of what I consider to be the inequitable Arbuthnott formula.

For the benefit of colleagues who are not aware of the problems faced by the NHS in Grampian as a result of the Arbuthnott formula, I will outline them in straightforward terms. Although Grampian has 10 per cent of Scotland's population and 10 per cent of the work load of the NHS in Scotland as measured by the NHS itself, we receive only 9 per cent of health funding—because of the Arbuthnott formula. A deficit of 1 per cent may not sound much, but I can assure the Parliament that that results in a missing £44 million in the budget of the NHS in Grampian.

The Arbuthnott funding formula is simply not just. Health spending should be arranged on an equitable basis throughout Scotland.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Will the member acknowledge that the Arbuthnott formula and some of the other financial strictures that have applied to the NHS in Grampian in recent years have led to an increase in waiting times and to a significant deterioration in the health service in Grampian relative to other parts of Scotland?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The Arbuthnott formula is only just kicking in at the moment. I am more concerned about what happens from now on, which is what we should focus on.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I will in a minute, but I have just taken an intervention.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Later on.

The easy way to end postcode prescribing is to ensure a level playing field in NHS funding across the country. It cannot be right that access to NHS services depends on where someone lives and is perhaps affected by the fact that their local health authority is underfunded in comparison with others. It is not enough simply to say that there is more money for everyone—I accept that there is more money for everybody—when some people are effectively more equal than others.

Apart from my obvious disagreement with the Executive over the Arbuthnott formula—and I note that the Minister for Health and Community Care is at least listening to what I am saying—and over the distribution of funding, I very much welcome the record level of investment in the NHS.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Does Mr Rumbles agree that life expectancy in Glasgow—which is not of course my area—is substantially lower than it is in his constituency, that unemployment is substantially higher there and that the extent of multiple deprivation there is massive? Does he agree that the Arbuthnott formula does not go far enough in tackling areas of multiple deprivation and that there have been real increases in funding in his constituency?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Here we come to the nub of the question. I am glad that Richard Simpson intervened to make that point, which illustrates the argument over what the Arbuthnott formula is doing. People must regularly appear in Richard Simpson's constituency surgeries, as they appear in mine, talking about the lack of funds that holds back access to health services and about how the health service in other parts of the country can provide access to particular treatments. He and I, and indeed the Minister for Health and Community Care, are well aware of that.

Nobody doubts that the extent of social deprivation is higher in Glasgow than it is in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine—I would be the first to accept that. The point, however, is that people should have access to NHS services at the same level, wherever they live. If we want to tackle social exclusion—and I do—we should tackle it on issues of housing, social security and so on, but not through the health budget.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

No—I think that I have given way quite well on that point.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

No. I would like to come to a conclusion.

The Liberal Democrats support the Budget (Scotland) (No 4) Bill, as it is good news for Scotland. It underpins the real achievements of the Executive, including the abolition of student tuition fees, the implementation of free personal care for the elderly, the McCrone deal for our teachers and the free central heating initiative for our pensioners to name just a few of them. The budget is delivering for the people of Scotland and deserves the full support of the Parliament.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Given the time that is available to us and the number of members who have indicated that they wish to speak, I expect to be able to call everyone. Members may speak for six minutes, if they wish—although that is not compulsory.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 4:05 pm, 13th February 2003

I will be as brief as possible, to assist my colleagues.

The Finance Committee has examined the budget for a number of months and has built up a good, co-operative relationship with the Executive. I hope that that relationship will continue in the new session, once our successor committee has been established.

I agree with Alasdair Morgan about the quality of the documents that are now provided, which are considerably clearer than those that were provided in the past. At our stage 2 meeting with the Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Services, we discussed that matter. Both the minister and his officials acknowledged that we still have some way to go in making the budget documents clearer.

On any objective analysis, this is a stunning budget for Scotland. It produces a £1.8 billion increase over the year. It provides funding for vital services, such as education, health and local government, with increases that were undreamed of just a few years ago. It maintains record numbers of police officers on our streets and raises the care of our elderly population to levels of excellence that a few years ago we could only dream of. In short, the budget provides a basis for significant improvements in the level of services and sustainable improvements in the quality of people's lives.

The budget is very welcome; scrutiny of the budget is not only welcome but necessary. I acknowledge the comments that have been made by some of my colleagues on the Finance Committee, who have suggested that the processes that we employ are occasionally repetitive. From the discussion that we had with the minister in committee a few days ago, I know that the Parliament and the Executive have a shared commitment to the continual review of our budget-setting processes, to ensure that we eliminate poor use of time and repetition. It will not do the Parliament, the committee system or any of us good if, so soon after the Parliament's creation, we do not review continually the processes that we employ.

I am not saying that significant advances have not been made—of course they have. Our processes for budget scrutiny are far in advance of those of many other parliamentary institutions. However, we should never be complacent and we should always be prepared to review those processes.

I am concerned about our processes not just for the sake of the Parliament, but because I have genuine concern for our colleagues on the SNP and Conservative benches. It must be particularly difficult for them to have to discuss week after week a budget that delivers such a success story throughout Scotland. If that were not bad enough, we are required to do it again today—just a few short weeks before the election.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Does it occur to Mr McCabe that, if we have a problem filling up the time, we could usefully spend it discussing the entire amount of Government expenditure in Scotland and the entire amount of Government income raised in Scotland?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

Given the size of the increase in this budget and the very substantial increases to the overall Scottish budget, I would be happy to spend all night discussing the entirety of expenditure in Scotland. People the length and breadth of Scotland are delighted by the extent of that expenditure. They know in a real way how their quality of life has improved over the past few years. Alasdair Morgan has made a very good suggestion.

In a spirit of consensus, I suggest that the Executive and the Minister for Finance and Public Services accept that they have won the battle. It is now starting to look as if they are rubbing salt into the wounds of our colleagues on the Opposition benches. We have discussed the budget long enough. Let us accept that it is an exceptional budget. People throughout Scotland already know that and I am happy to endorse it.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 4:09 pm, 13th February 2003

After the humour of McCabe comes the harsh reality of the numbers in the bill. In fact, I find numbers desperately exciting. The discovery in recent times of the 39 th Mersenne prime—which is 2 13,466,917 -1, a number of 4 million digits—is exciting beyond belief. I am sure that members share that excitement.

I am afraid that, as members would expect, I will refer to fisheries. I note that in the coming year we will see a reduction in expenditure from £67.8 million to £48.2 million, according to the budget documents. Perhaps that explains why, in the answer to my colleague Richard Lochhead's question S1W-33536 on where the £50 million for the fishing industry was coming from, the Executive had to say—and I paraphrase—that it is not possible to tell at this stage what will deliver the resources required. The Executive has to examine how it is funding its spending commitments. We will have no more talk about uncosted spending commitments from the SNP.

I will make a brief comment about the small business rates relief. One of my constituents has a retail outlet that is in two premises on opposite sides of the street. It is a small business but, because there are two premises, it does not qualify as such.

I refer to page 16 of the budget documents. I ask the minister whether, in calculating the percentage payments that are being made in the agriculture budget, the Executive is excluding claims that are being made and rejected because of the inefficiencies of the British Cattle Movement Service. It is easy to achieve objectives in completing the making of payments if we reject large numbers of claims through administrative inefficiencies.

I have a little question about pensions—the minister had better have several pens. One of the first things that Gordon Brown did when Labour came to power in 1997 was to change the tax position of pension funds. That has taken some £31 billion out of pension funds, which is roughly equivalent to the current shortfall in the funds. On page 23 of the budget documents, we see a sudden uplift in pension outgoings, which more than double under a heading on that page. I ask the minister what is going on there.

Rural transport is a matter of considerable interest in my constituency. The budget for rural transport measures in the coming year will rise from £5.9 million to £6.3 million. That is good, but it does not sound like an awful lot of money. I see that reflected in my area. When I get the bus from Aberdeen to Peterhead, the journey of 34 miles costs me £4. The village of Whitehills, where I have stayed since being elected, is but 3 miles from Banff and the return bus fare is roughly the same. Therefore, a journey of 6 miles in a very rural part of my constituency costs much the same as a journey of 34 miles elsewhere.

We have heard today that Gaelic is on the downturn. On page 110 of the budget documents, we see a standstill budget for Gaelic education of £2.8 million. On page 121, we see a standstill in grants. On page 112, we see a 5 per cent uplift in the number of users of Gaelic education, despite a standstill budget. It would be interesting to hear the minister explain that.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Is the member aware that Gaelic education has not taken a downturn? The downturn seems to have come about because of older people no longer being with us. In the younger generation, there is a big increase in the use of Gaelic.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I thank Maureen Macmillan for making my point for me. Given that the census shows that the overall number of Gaelic speakers is dropping—a matter that I very much regret—it seems perverse that the budget to help to develop the next generation of Gaelic speakers is at a standstill, although even within that there seem to be conflicts.

In my intervention on the minister about broadband in the Highlands and Islands, I was making the point that availability of access will, according to the budget documents, remain at 30 per cent next year. Of course advertising will increase the uptake, which is good news. However, given that the Welsh Executive has found £115 million to create a level playing field for business use of broadband—it is subsidising the use of satellite broadband in areas of Wales where cable broadband cannot be provided, so that the cost of satellite broadband is the same as the cost of ADSL connections, which cable provides—it is disappointing that we are far short of that.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I have a point of information for Stewart Stevenson. Highlands and Islands Enterprise provides funding to allow businesses to access broadband on satellite. That has been a successful programme in the Highlands.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Indeed it has been. The rest of Scotland—in particular, my part of Scotland—has no access whatever to broadband. It is interesting that even parts of Edinburgh do not have such access. The point is that, in spite of "A Smart, Successful Scotland", there has been no uplift in the Highlands and Islands.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

So I am. I must put my glasses on. I was using Tom McCabe's time.

To close, I will latch on to a point that is mentioned on page 180 of the budget documents. Earlier today, some observations were made on dental practice. I note that the income from charges that are collected by dental practitioners is expected to fall in the coming year. Does that mean that national health service dentistry will be less prevalent in the coming year?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 4:16 pm, 13th February 2003

I will speak about the justice element of the budget. On 26 September, the First Minister admitted to the Parliament that police numbers would simply be maintained and would

"increase and decrease slightly over time".—[Official Report, 26 September 2002; c 14199.]

The Conservatives believe that that is simply not acceptable.

There are growing resource pressures on the police and added responsibilities—for example, the incorporation of the European convention on human rights has had implications on search warrant procedures. Those implications, together with the impending introduction of victim statements under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, the monitoring of the sex offenders register, the administration of alternatives to custody and other short-term initiatives, will mean that fewer police officers will be available at any given time.

"Narrowing The Gap: Police visibility and public reassurance—Managing public expectation and demand" was published by HM inspectorate of constabulary last year. It noted that only 22.6 per cent of the total number of police officers are available for patrol or to attend incidents at any given time and that only 4 per cent of duty time is allocated to foot patrol. That means that, throughout Scotland, only 138 police officers are on foot patrol at any given time. The report also noted that more than 80 per cent of people agree that a more enhanced, targeted and visible police presence would make people feel safer and reduce and help to prevent crime.

In spite of the police service's increased responsibilities and the increasing demands from the public, the justice budget is set to increase by only 1.3 per cent, according to the Scottish Executive's projections in "Building a Better Scotland: Spending Proposals 2003-2006". That is simply not good enough, when violent crime is rising. The number of crimes involving handguns rose by 40 per cent in 2001. In that year, 343 people were killed or injured in shootings in Scotland. The block grant has increased by some 22.5 per cent since 2000-01, so an increase of only 1.3 per cent for the justice budget in the projected period is not enough.

The police are not the only ones who are suffering. There is little point in police officers solving crime and arresting criminals if it takes for ever and a day for the cases to come to court. As we discussed this morning, our entire justice system is cracking at the seams. Lengthening delays help offenders to evade justice. We believe that an overhaul of the whole process is long overdue. The resources that are available should be given particular attention.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

In relation to police numbers and expenditure on the police, the member said twice that what was on offer was not good enough. I ask him to provide his definition of what would be good enough.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

We have given a commitment that we would increase resources for the police service by some £25 million. If the member wishes to know where that money would come from, I can tell him that it would come from more streamlined government—we would cut the cost of government—and from savings in the social justice budget.

We believe that our youth justice system is facing a crisis. Panel members must often make decisions based not on what is best for the young person or on what would achieve the best outcome, but on what resources are available. That is not the best way in which to conduct justice. In his written evidence to the Justice 1 Committee, Douglas Keil of the Scottish Police Federation stated:

"A properly based decision to send someone to prison should not be frustrated through a lack of finance. Similarly, an alternative to custody should not be chosen because it is cheaper."

Another frustration of the system has been the use of initiative policing. One such example was part of the Executive's 10-point action plan on youth crime for a safer Scotland—the initiative took place in October to December last year. During the campaign, there was to be high-visibility policing, which would be supported by a media campaign. I am interested to hear from the minister what happened to that campaign. Was there any higher-visibility policing? If there was, it was scarcely noticeable.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I must point out that the successful high-visibility policing campaign in Pollok has reassured my constituents that those questions are being addressed at a local level.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I am glad to hear that, because it means that the member's campaign has had an effect. I would like to add to that effectiveness by ensuring that much greater resources are made available to make certain that the benefits that Johann Lamont's constituents have received are applicable to all constituents the length and breadth of Scotland.

As I mentioned, we want to see far more resources allocated to the justice budget, to the police force, to the criminal justice service and to children's hearings.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

No, I have already taken two questions and I must sum up.

That is one area where greatly increased funding will make a difference. We believe that we must have more police officers and fiscals operating at the sharp end. Crime disproportionately affects the poorer and more vulnerable persons in the community. We want to create a society that is free from crime and free from the fear of crime. To do that, more resources need to be put in place.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I call Richard Simpson. Having done some calculations, I am quite happy to compensate for intervention time in addition to the six minutes for speeches, as we have a little bit of a margin.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 4:22 pm, 13th February 2003

For a minute, I thought that the Presiding Officer was about to call someone else to speak.

I welcome this important budget, which provides for growth in our public services. In particular, I welcome the proposed increases in the health service budget. However, we need to recognise that such an investment will bring with it a number of challenges.

The first challenge is, quite correctly, the need to invest in staff. Earlier today, we heard about the agreement on the minimum wage for the poorest paid within the health service. That is an entirely appropriate measure, which recognises the real contribution that has been made to the service by porters, cleaners, auxiliary nurses and others who have been badly paid in the past.

The need for effective integrated team working is absolutely crucial. It is vital that we break down the boundaries between primary and secondary care if we are to have a modern service. However, I must tell the minister that, only the other day, I heard of a secretary in my constituency whose job was advertised only in the week on which she was due to leave, despite her having given three months' notice. Not only does that indicate the value that managers place on secretaries, but it shows that managers fail to appreciate how their actions can place patient care in jeopardy. In that case, the result was that one of my constituents did not receive the results of a 24-hour heart monitor for two months. I ask members to imagine what anxiety that must create.

Alongside the challenge of using the money to make the additional necessary investment in our staff, there is the challenge of modernisation. Lord James dealt with justice, which I will return to in a minute. In relation to health, however, it is vital that, if the massive investment is to be utilised, it must go alongside innovation. I strongly commend the creation of the change and innovation centre, which I hope will be given the teeth and authority to tackle those health boards that fail to respond to best practice and innovation, that fail to meet the challenges set by of the Clinical Standards Board for Scotland and that fail to respond to the Audit Scotland reports that we repeatedly receive. Change and innovation are needed and must be monitored in relation to the performance assessment framework.

Let me give some concrete examples. Cardiac surgeons in Glasgow continue to insert pacemakers when that is done by physicians in most parts of the world. That costs my health board £25,000 an implant, when the same service could be provided for £15,000. That is like setting a light under £200,000 of my local health service's money. However, the local health board cannot get out of their contracts with the Glasgow surgeon. We have to cut those Gordian knots.

We have nurse endoscopists in various parts of the country, including Fife, which led the way—Margaret Jamieson's constituency now has such nurses, too. The use of those nurses reduces endoscopy waiting lists to zero. In my health board area, where there are no nurse endoscopists, there are apparently hard-pressed gastroenterologists and the waiting lists are massive.

I say to Mike Rumbles that the issue is as much about modernisation and the effective use of money as it is about increasing real resources. Health boards across the country are not achieving the optimum number of day cases and far too many people are still having in-patient procedures. That creates major problems. We allow restrictive practices to prevent change. We do not employ one nurse anaesthetist in Scotland and yet, in America, nurses account for 25 per cent of anaesthetists. Such restrictive practices challenge our budgets even when we are having very real funding increases. We should consider that issue closely.

The change and innovation centre must consider the proposals that are coming through and deal with them quickly. For example, there is a proposal for day care knee arthroscopy, under a local anaesthetic. It has taken two years to consider that innovative practice, the use of which would substantially reduce the waiting lists in my area, which are the longest in Scotland. That is just one example of many that I could give. We need to ensure that innovations are at the top of health boards' agendas, given that often it is the health boards that are blocking the innovations.

Photo of Margaret Jamieson Margaret Jamieson Labour

As Dr Simpson says, there is a lot of good practice in the health service. However, professional barriers are not coming down to allow patients to benefit from the record levels of investment. I ask the minister to ensure that there is enough detail in the budget to allow us to measure outcomes. Previously, although money has been going in, we have not been able to measure the results. Through facilities such as Audit Scotland and clinical audit, we should be able to see the health benefits of what we are putting in.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

In the brief time that I have left, I will turn to two other issues. Having been off the Finance Committee for a year and then returned, I am still disappointed that the Opposition parties are not coming up with fundamental proposals to change the budget. They suggest such projects as the A9 dualling, which would cost £500 million, but where was the proposal to amend the budget?

David Davidson talked about the changes that the Conservatives would make. Why were those changes not proposed earlier? The Parliament gives members that opportunity. It is much more democratic than Westminster. However, over the past four years, Opposition members have singularly failed to make any significant proposals for changes to the budget, so they cannot complain about it.

I will finish by talking about justice. The issue is not just about increasing money for the police; it is about the use to which the police are put. We have to alter the core functions of the police and remove from them escort duties, court custody work, serving of citations, lost property work—my God, are they still doing that?—and finding lost dogs. The Government's additional investment—in improved communication, among other things—will not just increase the number of police, but make those that we have much more visible and available in the community.

I hope that that investment, combined with the work of Bonomy and McInnes—who should report this year—will reduce the number of police personnel abstractions, which make it difficult for the police forces to work. We need to take into account—I say this sincerely to the Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Services—the working time directive in relation to police duties. The way in which the police are required to attend court at the moment has a profound, negative effect on our system. We cannot allow the police to ignore the working time directive. They have to be brought into the proposals, which will cost us a lot of time and money. We need to examine that issue carefully.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 4:30 pm, 13th February 2003

I am not a member of the Finance Committee, and in entering this rarefied air of consideration of the budget in such detail I feel somewhat of an interloper, but I agree with Richard Simpson's point about the need for the Opposition parties to illustrate what they would do differently. My party does that at Westminster, and while the Government of the day disagrees with it, at least the debate is about alternative proposals. It is an important principle of opposition politics in Parliament that Opposition parties produce their own fundamental budget proposals.

First, I will concentrate briefly on a small area of the environment budget—the Scottish community renewables initiative—which is a new area of expenditure funded from that budget block. It is a grant scheme for communities and individuals to provide for the installation of green energy supplies for projects such as community halls or homes. The days in my part of Scotland, or indeed in many members' parts of Scotland, where the condition of old snooker tables in community halls gets worse because there is no heat can be done away with under the scheme, because it can provide for a clean, renewable energy source that is always on. That ensures that heating is available for youth clubs and sports clubs where communities are unable to afford the cost of heating such facilities. The initiative is important in policy terms and in terms of practical improvements for the people who live in our communities.

For community projects, the green power can come from a wind turbine, solar panels, hydro, wave, geothermal or biomass. For such projects there is a £10,000 maximum grant for a feasibility study, followed by up to £100,000 grant aid for the capital cost. The community projects must, of course, be non-profit distributing. That is an important area, and it is an important grant scheme that is being provided by the Scottish Executive in this Budget Bill. There is a householder scheme on top of the community scheme.

The feedback from Highlands and Islands Enterprise's energy office in Kirkwall, which is handling the scheme, is that it is generating such high demand that the budget may not meet the demand. I ask the minister to work with colleagues in other departments to examine extra funding for the scheme, because it is precisely the sort of scheme that can make a big difference to community groups and individuals the length and breadth of Scotland. Community and domestic renewable energy schemes are welcome and valued in their own right, but they are just the tip of the renewables iceberg.

My second point relates to Scotland's ability to target and harness renewable resources. There are currently only 13 operational windfarms in Scotland, but as many as 760 new wind turbines in up to 40 windfarms will be needed over the next 10 years if the Executive is to meet its renewables targets. The 40 per cent target that is currently being consulted on is even more challenging. That is why tidal and wave technologies are so important.

Renewables offer the chance to do something for the environment and future generations; at the same time, they offer enterprise opportunities, which must be important in the context of debates that are happening, and have happened this week in Parliament, on economic growth and gross domestic product figures. Scotland has the chance, which must not be missed, to take a lead in wave and tidal current power. The Danes in particular have already grasped the immense benefits of leading in wind turbine manufacturing.

Scotland's universities can be at the forefront of wave power research. It is particularly important that the enterprise budget concentrates on that area, and that the excellent work of the research assessment exercise ensures that research is married to engineering and construction skills. There is an opportunity to transfer the hard-won skills of our offshore oil industry to offshore renewables. In the week when BP made it clear that its long-term strategy was to move away from Alaska and the mature North sea fields towards investments in Russia, it is vital for the north-east not to lose the skills in Aberdeen and the surrounding communities as companies take strategic decisions to transfer to other parts of the globe.

Tidal power has great potential and a prototype was tested successfully in my constituency in Yell sound last year. The 1993 Department of Trade and Industry survey found that 10 per cent of the UK's electricity demand could be met by harnessing the tidal currents of the Pentland firth alone, which would provide enough electricity for the whole of Scotland.

I hope that, in future budget bills, the Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Services will make proposals that concentrate on and harness renewable energy resources. To provide power where it is needed—in the population centres in the central belt of Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom—the Scottish Executive and the UK Government have an important role in providing subsea cables. Investment in such strategic infrastructure will be needed from public money, European money and private money to benefit the energy policy that the country needs.

The budget delivers much throughout the public services, but it is in the detailed matters, and particularly projects such as the Scottish community renewables initiative, that MSPs and Parliament can make a difference to people from Shetland to Stranraer and can show that budget bills are about not only vast quantities of money, but real differences to people in their local communities. On that basis, I have great pleasure in commending the bill to Parliament.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 4:36 pm, 13th February 2003

In the spirit of Richard Simpson's speech, I did not want to miss the opportunity to liven proceedings up a little. Harold Wilson once said:

"A week is a long time in politics", and I thought that I might review the past week from the Executive's perspective. This week, interest rates were cut to their lowest level for almost 50 years and the level of unemployment in Scotland fell again. Since 1997, 134,000 more people have found employment, and more than 1,000 people per constituency have gone back into work since the Parliament was established. This week, a series of public spending announcements has been made. All that was delivered in a week that has seen darkening days for the world economy. It has been a sound week indeed.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

The member said that she would review the Executive's week. She is now talking about delivery. Did the Executive deliver the interest rates reduction?

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

As the member knows, the Executive is committed to the current constitutional settlement. He timed his intervention beautifully to allow me to move on to the fact that a week is a long time in politics for Opposition parties. For the next 10 weeks, the case that I imagine Alasdair Morgan will make is for the right to govern Scotland, interest rates included.

What have we learned about the SNP's budget proposals in the past week? Members will recall that, in the 1970s, the SNP bandwagon stalled because, suddenly, people in Scotland realised that the SNP was all things to all people. In the past four years, we have heard from the Opposition that all that has changed. We should review that in the light of the past week.

Last Friday, Andrew "Gizza job" Wilson, who is not here—perhaps he is looking for a job now—announced that he agrees with "A Smart, Successful Scotland". It is more than two years since the document was published, but we welcome all converts, even late ones.

The SNP's only difference on enterprise policy is that it wants to cut £150 million from the enterprise budget. No other budgets would face cuts from that pro-enterprise party, but £150 million will be slashed from the enterprise budget by amalgamating local enterprise companies. Members with long memories will remember that, sometimes, the SNP has trouble with its arithmetic—calculators and all that—so this morning, I read Scottish Enterprise's operating plan. It has a total administration budget of £90 million and the LECs have a total administration budget of £40 million. We can assume that if the LECs are amalgamated, half the LEC admin budget will be saved—a princely £20 million. That means that the SNP has to find another £130 million to fund its promised 1 per cent cut in public spending.

I have good news for the SNP—it can manage that. If the SNP were to cut Careers Scotland in its entirety, along with every single one of the 25,000 modern apprenticeships, and if it were to cancel all the institutes of technology, that would get the figure up to £128 million. The SNP would still have to find another £2 million, but perhaps Brian Adam will enlighten us in his closing speech. Today's debate is a chance for the SNP finance team to tell the chamber where the money will come from. Those of us on the coalition benches will hound the SNP at every business breakfast up and down the country until we have the answer.

If a week was a long time in politics for Andrew Wilson, what about John Swinney on Thursday, parading the fact that the SNP is opposed to public-private partnerships? The SNP tells the private sector that it can be involved in building Scotland's infrastructure only on a not-for-profit basis; I am sure that that will have the shareholders queuing up.

The SNP finance spokespeople should do their duty today and tell the chamber which of the contracts that are currently under negotiation—I am thinking of the PPPs for all the schools in Edinburgh or Renfrewshire or the PPP for the primary schools in Glasgow—will be cancelled under its plans, or whether its convictions of today will be casually discarded in the weeks ahead.

When it comes to a week being a long time in politics, the SNP's third finance proposal of the past week was made as recently as Tuesday. Kenny MacAskill announced the re-nationalisation of all of the train companies' operating assets on, and I quote, a "cost neutral" basis—300 trains and sleepers for free?

It has been a revealing week when it comes to opposition politics. The only budget that the SNP proposes to cut is the enterprise budget. The SNP is going to cancel PFI schemes up and down the country and re-nationalise ScotRail without compensation. Is that a pro-enterprise agenda? The SNP is not pro-enterprise; it is simply pro-promises. It is every bit as much all things to all people today as it was 30 years ago. The SNP has already proposed one public spending cut to the enterprise budget. If it were to tell the truth, how many more cuts would follow?

The coalition will not cut spending to punish the poor. We will not cut public spending to curry favour with this or that group in Scotland. The SNP tells us that it wants to be a grown-up party and that it wants to show fiscal prudence and financial responsibility. I say to the SNP that, in 5 minutes' time, it should take its chance to be a grown-up party.

I would like the SNP to tell me how, with the one cut that it has promised to make in public spending—which happens to be in the enterprise budget—it will pay for everything. So far, the SNP has told the chamber how it will pay for £20 million. I look forward to hearing about the rest.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 4:43 pm, 13th February 2003

We are having yet another debate on the budget. Some members have contributed positively and some serious speeches have been made. Other speeches were of a more light-hearted nature—I am thinking of the Finance Committee convener's contribution—and some members continue to pose questions of the Opposition. Wendy Alexander's speech was interesting, although this is the lady who suggested that the Labour party had not come up with one good idea in the past 100 years. Perhaps posing questions, when the answers to those questions are a matter of public record, was the height of the contribution she was able to make.

She set out to peddle a series of lies—[Interruption.]

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The term "terminological inexactitude" springs to mind.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Yes, indeed. I take your point, Presiding Officer. I apologise for the misuse of language, although misuse of language might be something with which the member to whom I was referring is familiar, particularly in the light of her clear ignorance of how the railway system works.

There were significant problems with the permanent way and the privatised arrangements. The Government, very sensibly, took the railways into a not-for-profit trust. The suggestions that were made by the SNP this week are precisely the same—

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Let me finish my point. The member has had her opportunity.

The SNP is suggesting precisely the same for the ScotRail franchise. Currently, ScotRail is a franchise, and that franchise will come to a conclusion, so why is there any suggestion of compensation? The member's level of economic ignorance and her deliberate attempt to mislead are disappointing.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

What would Mr MacKay like to ask me?

Photo of Angus MacKay Angus MacKay Labour

I should like to repeat one of the questions that was asked by Wendy Alexander. Will the SNP cancel the Edinburgh schools PPP—yes or no?

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

The SNP has set out precisely what it intends to do with regard to PFI/PPP, which is, as several audit reports have clearly identified, the most expensive alternative. [MEMBERS: "Yes or no?"] Do members want the answers or not?

PPP does not work. We heard a great exposition this morning of why the Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd arrangements at Inverness airport do not work. The height of ambition in the budget documents is that, during the next four years, the Executive hopes to increase passenger numbers by 5 per cent, whereas most airports are looking for double-digit growth. That is exactly the sort of lack of ambition and failure to deliver that PPP represents. Indeed, Labour members were complaining about that.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Does Mr Adam agree that the SNP group on Aberdeenshire Council voted overwhelmingly to support PPP for schools?

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

The SNP has proposed, and Aberdeenshire Council has accepted, that because the SNP will not go down the PPP route, the council will look at a not-for-profit trust. Mr Davidson knows that well.

My colleague Mr Morgan made reference to business rates. We have failed to hear sensible answers from ministers on several occasions, but the Budget Bill shows that a clear increase is expected from non-domestic rate income in the coming year. There has been no sensible explanation of why that will be the case. It could be the result of great confidence in growth of the economy, which the figures do not support, or it could be that there will be an increase in tax levied on business in the coming year as a consequence of the forthcoming valuation. Which is it?

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

No, thank you.

We heard some significant contributions today from Mr Rumbles. He spoke eloquently about why the budget arrangements do not work, but then said that he supported the budget. He made a complaint, rightly, about how the distribution formula does not deliver for his constituents, who also happen to be my constituents. In terms of how the distribution formula works, we do not have appropriate and robust measures to determine whether the additional funds that are given to address deprivation and other factors are delivering.

Dr Simpson was right to suggest that the Glasgow area has significantly more problems with health than almost anywhere else. However, we do not have evidence to show that additional funding targeted at that area is delivering. We do not know the outcomes. It is true to say that more money is being allocated to various areas of the budget, but we are not seeing the changes in outcomes that the public are looking for. People are looking for changes such as reductions in crime, more convictions, and more staff to deliver faster service in the health service. However, we do not have any evidence that such things are happening.

Tom McCabe was certainly at great pains to suggest that the budget was fantastic: he tried to create the perception of success. The problem is that the public do not have such a perception, which is a reflection of the outcomes so far, not of the amounts of money that are available.

It is true to say that we tend to focus a lot on the budget process. Dr Simpson suggested that one of the problems with the process is that there are no amendments before Parliament today. However, that is because we were not allowed to lodge any amendments for today's debate. The Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000 does not allow any amendments to be lodged at this stage in the process. This year, for the first time ever, a properly reasoned amendment to the bill was lodged. It did not attract sufficient support, but at least some progress has been made along those lines.

The Finance Committee had an interesting discussion about the future of the budget process. The minister indicated that he was willing to review the process and, indeed, to have another look at the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) 2000. I suggest that, in that regard, the zero-sum budgeting arrangements do not allow adequate debate or give an adequate opportunity for individual members, parliamentary committees or the political parties to develop alternatives. However, I should point out that not everything in the budget has been decided on a party-political basis; much of the work that has been done on the budget in the subject committees and in the Finance Committee has had a consensual basis—and rightly so. [Interruption.]

I see that you are telling me that it is time for me to wind up, Presiding Officer. I am more than happy to do so.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Will you advise me whether it is the case that amendments to the budget bill are not allowed? If they are allowed, will you tell us when they should be lodged?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Offhand, my opinion is that it is not possible for anyone other than the Executive to amend the budget process at this stage.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Yes. However, I think that there was an amendment at stage 1. It is possible to lodge amendments at that point.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Am I right in thinking that there is nothing to preclude any party in the chamber from publishing its own document to stand beside the Parliament's budget document?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I do not think that that is a point of order. Indeed, I think that the member knows the answer to her own question.

Now that Mr Adam has finished, I should thank members for overrunning on their speeches for once. Minister, you have eight minutes to respond to the debate.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 4:53 pm, 13th February 2003

The debate has risen well beyond the expectations that we had before it began, particularly with the speeches from Tom McCabe, Wendy Alexander and Richard Simpson, to which I will return in a minute.

I will try to pick up as many points as I can. Alasdair Morgan requested that we should put a date on future documents. I am sure that we can rise easily to that challenge—it is considerably easier than dealing with proper amendments to the budget. Notwithstanding what I think Mr Morgan said from a sedentary position a minute ago, it is entirely possible for members to lodge amendments to the budget at an earlier stage. Indeed, one SNP member did so. Regrettably, we could not agree to the substance of the amendment itself, but the example serves to highlight the point that Richard Simpson, Johann Lamont and others raised, which is that the SNP and the Tories have made not one suggestion about how they would change the budget in any material respect. None of the promises that they have made the length and breadth of Scotland over the past few weeks has been backed up with any supporting evidence in the chamber and there have been no proposals that would affect Scotland's expenditure plans. People should see such promises in that light.

Alasdair Morgan raised the issue of business rates yet again. I am happy to confirm that, as part of next year's budget, the Executive will freeze business rates. That will further continue a process of harmonisation north and south of the border. Mr Morgan also mentioned the future non-domestic rates revaluation. He knows as well as I do that revaluations per se do not affect the total amount of money in the Executive's yield. Instead, they affect distribution between sectors of the economy. The yield difference comes from growth in the economy and from new businesses starting and expanding. That also answers the point that David Davidson made on that matter.

David Davidson for the Tories indicated that there was a lot of waste in the budget, but he did not identify a single item that he would cut. If he makes such points, he has a responsibility to indicate where the cuts would fall. We know full well that the Tory plans to cut public services are apparent to everybody who wants to examine them.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Perhaps we might return to some of the points that I raised in the earlier parts of the budget process, such as the amount of money that seems to be wasted on administration in the Scottish Executive. That is not to mention the building project down the bottom of the road, which adds up to several million pounds.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

Again, those are sweeping generalisations. It is dead easy for the member to say that he would make savings in Government administration without pointing to a single way in which he would seek to do that.

In relation to the point David Davidson made about council tax rises, there is comparatively good news throughout Scotland today. As he indicated, the council tax increases are between 3 per cent and 4 per cent, but at the same time spending on local services is growing by over 8 per cent. That seems to be a good deal for the local taxpayer. It is exactly the opposite to what used to happen under the Conservative Administrations of the past.

Photo of Angus MacKay Angus MacKay Labour

While the minister is on the subject of improving local services, is he aware that when the City of Edinburgh Council's budget was being announced and the Labour group's budget was being adopted today, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition members voted against a proposal for 36 additional police officers in Edinburgh to focus on antisocial behaviour? Sadly, the Scottish National Party member was not present for the budget debate.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

That is extremely revealing information, particularly in the light of what Lord James Douglas-Hamilton told us earlier about the Conservatives' commitment to justice. Perhaps Angus MacKay's point reveals their true intentions in that respect.

Mike Rumbles made a number of good points about the budget providing growth and opportunity for Scotland and the good news contained in the budget. He also pointed to the good news in relation to local authority budgets and highlighted extremely well the Tories' service-cutting intentions.

Tom McCabe made a scintillating contribution to the debate. Not only was he full of praise for the Executive and its co-operation with the Finance Committee and not only did he illustrate that the budget process is improving, but he revealed that it is a stunning budget for Scotland. It tackles Scotland's priorities and increases police numbers, among many other things. He pointed out the significant improvements over a sustained period of time that will be brought about by this budget and budgets to come. He also pointed out the extreme difficulties of the SNP and the Tories in having to discuss the budget eight times in the course of the budget process because it contains such good news. Far from me rubbing salt into the wounds, Tom McCabe did that extremely effectively himself.

Stewart Stevenson raised so many points that I will have to write to him about them in due course, although preparing answers to what were ill-informed questions might come under the category of disproportionate cost. If he cares to speak to his colleague Brian Adam, he will find that we have already written to him about most of the points Stewart Stevenson raised and that we qualified and satisfied those points.

Richard Simpson made a thoughtful contribution about the budget, not only in relation to the extra cash for health and police services. He made the point that it is not money alone that will improve services, but innovation and modernisation. It is about rolling out best practice throughout Scotland and rolling it out much faster than we have in the past. It is about ensuring that everybody in the public sector is up to the standards of the best.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I have already given way and I will not do so now.

Margaret Jamieson also made an extremely important point about the outcomes of health spending in the Scottish budget. I tell her that there have been recent discussions between the Finance Committee and health department officials to try to ensure that there is more visibility in exactly those kinds of areas.

Wendy Alexander made an extremely helpful contribution in pointing out that Scotland has a huge opportunity for future prosperity arising from our firm place in the United Kingdom. The consequences of our stable place in the United Kingdom are the lowest interest rates on record, consistently low inflation and lower unemployment than we have had for generations. That is in stark contrast to the risk and uncertainty that would arise from the divorce from the UK that the SNP promises and all the cuts in public services that would follow that strategy.

Through the Budget (Scotland) (No 4) Bill, the Executive is making record investments in health, education, reducing crime, improving transport and supporting jobs. The Executive is building a better Scotland, and the bill provides the means to do so. I commend it to Parliament.