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

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th March 2020.

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Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

Why will the UK Government not hand over the VAT payments that it has not returned to the police service?

Most of the other parties have criticised the budget because it does not spend vastly bigger sums of money on the particular areas of their choosing, but they have not had the courage to identify what they would deprioritise in order to do that. The truth is that, despite the uncertainty and the risks of producing our budget before the UK Government’s budget, and despite a decade of Tory-imposed austerity, we have set a balanced budget that prioritises investing in the economy, tackling climate change, reducing poverty and delivering certainty for taxpayers.

We are doing that within a fiscal framework in which the UK Government will claw back more than £200 million this year and more than double that next year because of forecast error in independently determined forecasts. The UK Government is doing that while keeping one of our hands tied behind our back, because borrowing powers to deal with forecast error are limited to £300 million. That demonstrates why we need an urgent review of the fiscal framework to allow us to respond properly to the volatilities and uncertainties that we face.

We have taken a prudent approach to the budget and have made wise assumptions to deliver a balanced budget and give ratepayers and public services the certainties that they need. We have tried to spread the risk and spread our exposure to the promises that the UK made in the December election campaign.

Murdo Fraser said that we have gone before UK Government budgets in the past, but the fiscal framework envisaged that block grant adjustments for the next financial year would be based on forecasts in the autumn statement, before the Scottish Government budget in December. No UK autumn statement has been published, so the Scottish budget has had to be based on provisional BGAs rather than on new, up-to-date Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts. That has inevitably increased uncertainty around the Scottish budget. If the chamber is agreed on how important the budget is, surely we can all be equally amazed and astounded that the only assurances that the UK Government could give the Scottish Government on the block grant was to refer us to estimates from March 2019—a year ago—and to its election manifesto. The consequences of the UK Government not delivering on its promises could have serious repercussions. We will hold the Tory Government to account for the promises that it made.

Labour’s position on the budget is somewhat wearying. It called for a climate change budget, and we have delivered that, but still it moans. It talked about inequality, and we are investing £1.4 billion in tackling poverty, including the first child payments later this year, but I did not hear a single comment on that from Rhoda Grant. Labour called for an extension of free bus travel to young people, but when that is delivered, it is not good enough. If the Labour Party votes against the budget at decision time, it will be voting against £15 million to extend free bus travel, £21 million for the Scottish child payment, continued investment in the Scottish child poverty fund and increases in the Scottish welfare fund. It cannot claim to champion the many and not the few while voting against those increases.

This year, through negotiations, the Greens have delivered something. They have made changes and they have left a mark and a legacy. All the parents who have been in touch with me in the past week to talk about the difference that extending free bus travel will make to them and their families appreciate that. As for the Lib Dems, Willie Rennie talked about certain inevitabilities, but what appears inevitable is that the Lib Dems never achieve any of their asks, because they set up absurd constitutional red lines.