I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance copy of his statement.
Public services are at breaking point. Headteachers are writing to parents about unprecedented cuts. One in four children in Scotland is living in poverty. Our rail system is in chaos.
This is yet another woeful SNP budget that will let the people of Scotland down. Yet again, ministers refuse to use their powers and continue to force cuts on to councils. Scotland is being let down by Nicola Sturgeon’s timid Government and Derek Mackay’s timid budget. Scotland needs a radical budget, which supports public services, tackles rising poverty and fixes the mayhem in our rail system.
If members want to see just how badly the SNP is failing the people of Scotland, they need only look at how councils are struggling. There are nearly 3,000 fewer teachers in our schools, and nearly a third of children fail to reach the required level of literacy by the end of primary school.
Few things better sum up the cruelty of the Tory Government than the two-child cap on tax credits and universal credit, which punishes people for raising a family, yet the SNP has refused to use its powers to put an end to that vile policy. With 230,000 children in Scotland living in poverty, the cabinet secretary should have backed calls to increase child benefit by £5 per week; that would lift 30,000 children out of poverty and put money in the pockets of families across Scotland. With over 4,000 families in Scotland affected by the two-child cap, why has the cabinet secretary sat on his hands, refusing to use the powers of this Parliament to cancel that vindictive policy?
If education really is the SNP’s top priority, why has this SNP Government continued to penalise councils with £95 million in swingeing cuts? At a time when one in four children in Scotland is living in poverty, why has the cabinet secretary retained more than £300 million in reserves?