The Scottish Government learned about the cancellation of the United Kingdom budget through the media. The calling of a general election means that a new UK budget date will not be known until December at the earliest.
Without the UK tax announcements and the tax, social security and economic forecasts that are produced for a UK budget, we will not have clarity on the funding available for public services in Scotland in 2020-21. The delay and uncertainty unreasonably constrain our ability to plan future spending and the associated time for parliamentary scrutiny.
Although the UK Government departments, as a result of the October spending round, have been given certainty on their budgets for next year, the Scottish Government, along with its counterpart in Wales, still lacks the certainty that it requires in order to set its budget. What can the minister do in that regard? It is not just custom and practice that have been abandoned; the Tories have compromised the basis of funding Scotland’s public services and setting out the Government’s tax plans and have damaged this Parliament’s ability to scrutinise tax and spending plans ahead of the new tax year.
Gil Paterson is right. The UK Government has compromised the ability of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament to deliver certainty for public spending next year. The UK block grant adjustment counts for more than 40 per cent of the Scottish fiscal resource budget. We still do not know when the UK budget will be announced. That makes it difficult to plan the timing of the Scottish budget. A later budget means less time for the Scottish Parliament to scrutinise spending plans. We all agree that that is unsatisfactory and that it is the fault of the UK Government. We will continue to do everything we can to progress the Scottish budget and protect the interests of Scotland.
Being a fair-minded person, the minister will be happy to acknowledge that all parties called for a December general election, with the consequence that we now see for the budget process. We do not know who will be in government after 12 December, so any spending commitments that were made up to that date might or might not be carried forward. Will she acknowledge that the Scottish National Party MPs in Westminster must take their share of responsibility for the position that we are in?
Being a fair member in return, Murdo Fraser will understand that the issue faces not just the Scottish Government but all members in the chamber who believe in scrutiny. Because the UK position has changed significantly with the announcement of the general election, the Scottish Government has to consider its approach to the budget. We will continue to engage with Parliament and the Scottish Fiscal Commission in relation to the options that are available to us.
Given the fact that, at the start of devolution, simpler budgets used to have something like four months of scrutiny, we are now in a tight, constrained process. We do not yet know whether there will be a UK budget before the next Brexit cliff-edge date at the end of January.
In that circumstance, would it be helpful for the Scottish representatives in this Parliament of the two parties that are likely to form the next UK Government to write to their Treasury counterparts and insist that their parties commit now that the UK budget will be no later than the first week of January?
Indeed: the earlier the budget is set at a UK level, the quicker we can get on and set our own budget. It is in the interests of not just the Government but all members of the Parliament to have maximum time for scrutiny. To that end, as always, if members of the two main UK parties could put pressure on their respective counterparts in Westminster to ensure that we have as much certainty as possible on when the budget is, that would be in everybody’s interests.
The minister will be aware that the delay to the Scottish budget will have a knock-on effect on other bodies such as local government and voluntary organisations. What contingencies is she putting in place to ensure that they can continue to deliver their services and that they will be adequately funded to do so?
I recognise the pressures on other bodies that depend on Scottish Government funding. We have various options available to take the budget through—we would like to do that as quickly and early as possible. It is in the interests of the Parliament that we engage as much as possible, including with the Scottish Fiscal Commission, to find the best approach in the circumstances that have been forced on us by the UK Government.