The UK budget contains a number of important pieces of information in relation to devolution and devolved and partially devolved taxes, without which it is more difficult for the Scottish Government to set its budget. We do not have the block grant adjustments, based on the most up-to-date forecasts, or the latest UK policy intentions—let us bear in mind that there might be differences between intentions that are announced by prospective UK Governments in the election period and what features in a spending review or a budget.
I agree that it is essential that the UK budget takes place as soon as possible after the general election. I have emphasised that point to the Treasury and I have alerted the Treasury to concerns about other matters. If the UK Government wants devolution to work successfully, it must engage seriously in this and understand our processes.
The consequences of a delay for public services are important, because, for local government and for public bodies, uncertainty continues about the substantive budgets, which people wish to know about. Of course, in dialogue with trade unions and others, many public sector employers need to consider pay remits that will have effect from 1 April. I will continue to engage with the unions, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and others on the budget process, but we will need the UK Government to act as quickly as it can post-election.
My officials will continue to work with committee clerks and the Scottish Fiscal Commission, which has engaged on the matter, on contingency options around the budget process and timetable, so that we can productively use the time before the UK general election to have ourselves as well placed as possible to respond to different scenarios. The failure of the UK Government to engage on the matter is very severe for Scotland’s public services.