It is essential that we come together as a Parliament today to agree next year’s budget and deliver the certainty and stability that Scotland and its people, businesses and communities deserve. Throughout this budget process, I have worked with all parties in the chamber to build consensus and to deliver a budget that supports Scotland’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
I thank the Finance and Constitution Committee for its stage 1 report on the budget, which I responded to on 2 March. In particular, I recognise the outstanding contribution of Bruce Crawford, as both a committee convener and a member of this Parliament. I am sure that all members across the chamber will join me today to offer him our grateful thanks for all his service to this Parliament and our best wishes for the future. [Applause.]
The committee’s report recognises that the budget has been published in a period of continued economic and fiscal uncertainty. In a year like no other, the passage of the budget bill will have a profound effect on our economy and public services. Since I introduced the budget bill on 28 January, I have engaged with members openly and transparently on the funding that is available and the budget challenges that we face. I thank all parties for their constructive contributions to those discussions. I am pleased that the Scottish Government has reached agreements with the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, which will secure the passage of this vital budget.
In addition to delivering on the spending measures that I have previously outlined to Parliament, as part of the agreement with the Scottish Greens, next year’s budget will deliver an additional £49.7 million for the phased roll-out of free school meals. That includes, from July 2021, the provision of free school meal holiday support to all children and young people who are currently eligible for free school meals on the basis of low income and, by August 2022, the universal provision of free school meals for all children in primary schools.
Further recognition of the remarkable contribution of public sector workers during the pandemic has also been agreed, with revisions to the 2021-22 public sector pay policy. That will increase the cash underpin from £750 to £800 for those earning up to £25,000, matching the cash cap for high earners. For those who earn more than £25,000 and up to £40,000, the pay rise will increase from 1 to 2 per cent.
I am also committing to fund a greater extension to the concessionary travel scheme, ensuring free travel for those aged up to 21, which goes beyond the previous plan to extend the scheme to the under 19s. It will include 21-year-olds and will cost an additional £17 million next year. We will work to deliver that as quickly as we can in the coming months, subject to the necessary legislative and operational processes, the continued impact of Covid and engagement with key delivery partners.
To further help lower-income households, we will make a targeted pandemic support payment of £130 to households that are in receipt of council tax reduction, and two £100 payments to families with children who qualify for free school meals. That means that low-income families receiving reduced council tax bills and qualifying for free school meals will receive support payments worth £330.
As part of my agreement with the Scottish Liberal Democrats, I have agreed that the Scottish Government will further support education recovery efforts for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with a £20 million pupil equity fund premium next year.
In recognition of the twin impacts of the pandemic and the downturn in the oil and gas sector, I will provide £15 million of financial support for retraining and reskilling to support the economic recovery in the north-east of Scotland, based on the principles of a just transition.
I will provide certainty to local government for next year’s budget by baselining the £90 million that was provided this year to support a national council tax freeze. That is in addition to the earlier commitments that I made to the Lib Dems to provide an additional £120 million for mental health services and £60 million in education recovery next year.
In the light of calls for a replacement for the Princess Alexandra eye pavilion in Edinburgh, we have asked NHS Lothian to carry out a review of its eye care services and to reconsider how they should be delivered. I commit to working with the board to implement its recommendations and to protect specialised eye services for the city and the wider region.
Having had several cross-party briefings, we all understand that the issue is that the Scottish Government withdrew funding of £45 million for the building. Is the Scottish Government making a commitment to reinstate capital funding for a new eye pavilion in Edinburgh?
I have just said that we have asked NHS Lothian to carry out a review and that we will work with the board to implement its recommendations. The process is appropriate and, from a funding perspective, I have committed to protect specialised eye services. I will not pre-empt the outcome of the review or the recommendations.
Understandably, I have focused today on the efforts that I have made to secure the passage of the budget bill. The changes are significant and they will help to secure our recovery from Covid-19. They build on the firm foundations of a budget that already delivers a £11.6 billion settlement for local government, which is fair and affordable. The settlement will allow councils to freeze council tax next year, while still providing funding for vital day-to-day services.
The cabinet secretary mentioned local government. This afternoon, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said that the cost of meeting the Scottish Government’s pay policy for local government workers will be £300 million. What additional resource has the cabinet secretary found to support local councils, which are now facing that challenge?
Murdo Fraser knows that local councils are the employers and that it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to interfere in negotiations between trade unions, the workforce and local government.
I have just outlined the settlement that we have provided to local government, which is a greater than 3 per cent increase in the core settlement, alongside additional funding to help with Covid pressures—£275 million was announced on 16 February, and there is an additional £259 million for next year.
We will keep all that under review. I have regularly said—I will say it again—that I do not necessarily think that this is the final budget update for next year; there will probably be more updates in the light of the uncertainties that we are living through. Therefore, we will revisit some elements over the coming months.
The budget allows for record funding of £16 billion for our national health service, which is an increase of more than £800 million to the core budget. That funding will support recovery and includes an investment in excess of £1.2 billion in mental health, underpinning our continued approach to improving mental health services.
The budget allows for 100 per cent rates relief for the retail, hospitality, leisure, aviation and newspaper industries for the whole of next year, which has been widely called for and is vital to those sectors. All parties in the chamber agreed to implement that, yet the same policy is not being implemented south of the border.
Our budget will deliver the lowest poundage rate available anywhere in the United Kingdom—saving ratepayers more than £120 million compared with previously published plans. We have a tax policy that delivers on our commitment to a fair and progressive tax system. We have ambitious use of our new welfare powers so that we can help to tackle child poverty—including significant investment in our game-changing Scottish child payment. We have almost £1.9 billion for the Scottish Funding Council, in order to fund our university and college sector. There is £1.3 billion for the Scottish Police Authority, including money for the elimination of the deficit in the police budget. There is an investment of more than £1.6 billion across bus and rail services, ensuring that we keep public transport open and supporting our recovery. There is £1.1 billion of total investment in employability and skills support.
On a final point of substance, I acknowledge the Labour Party’s focus on pay for social care workers during our budget discussions. Of course, our public pay policy continues our action to address low pay, with a further cash underpinning and continuing adherence to the increased real living wage. Although that policy is not directly applicable to the social care workforce, it nonetheless sets a benchmark. I am clear that social care workers should have fair levels of pay for all that they do, and am equally clear that I will promise only what can be afforded.
I do not think that Daniel Johnson’s characterisation captures the facts. I will come on to those now.
I have been clear that social care workers should have fair levels of pay. With the limited and non-recurring funding that has flowed from the UK budget, I have not been able to accede to Labour’s position of an initial £12 per hour leading to £15 per hour. An immediate increase to £12 per hour would provide a 26 per cent uplift in pay from the 2021-22 real living wage of £9.50 per hour, at an estimated cost of around £470 million. Moving to £15 per hour would equate to an increase of 58 per cent and an annual salary of more than £29,000, and would cost more than £2 billion if the impact on the wider agenda for change workforce was taken into account.
However, I believe in the importance of recognising the efforts of our social care workers. We have recognised those efforts already with a £500 thank you, and have promised to pay the real living wage. That does not, however, mean that that is my final word on the matter.
My position is that we will respect the process and the outcome of collective bargaining. We will look to build on the progress that has been made by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport in recent months. We will duly consider the work of the fair work in social care implementation group, which is set to report in May with recommendations on key areas for the social care workforce, including pay and terms and conditions. Finally, I will be very open to discussions on social care pay with any and all interested voices—talking of which, I will take an intervention from Jackie Baillie.
That is a challenge with which I have to contend. I have been open and transparent with all parties when it comes to the funding that is available. There has been much talk about additional funding for the Scottish Government, but that is non-recurring Covid consequential funding, which may not be guaranteed in future years. I have committed here and now to implementing the outcome of collective bargaining, and it will be one of my headaches to figure out how such things are funded. That is the nature of being in government: we have to ensure that what we commit to is affordable.
The ground that I have covered demonstrates how the budget provides stability and certainty for taxpayers and delivers for our economy. These times are truly unprecedented and require an unprecedented response. The budget delivers that. With cross-party support for it tonight, its passage will help to put Scotland on the road to recover.
That the Parliament agrees that the Budget (Scotland) (No. 5) Bill be passed.
I start by thanking the Cabinet Secretary for Finance for the constructive engagement that we have had throughout the budget process. Although we were not in the end able to reach agreement, I put on record my thanks to her for her willingness to discuss Scottish Conservatives’ very reasonable budget asks—even though I regret that, in the end, she was not able to meet them.
As the deputy convener of the Finance and Constitution Committee, I join the finance secretary in paying tribute to my friend Bruce Crawford, who I think is making his final speech in the chamber this afternoon. Bruce has served as convener of the committee for the past five years and has led the committee, as we would expect, with the grace and wisdom that reflect his service to the Parliament over many years. I am sure that all members wish him a very happy retirement in a few weeks’ time.
When we had the stage 1 debate on the budget some weeks ago, I reminded members that this budget would be the largest in the history of devolution. At that point, in revenue terms it was up 11 per cent on the budget for the previous year, and it gave the finance secretary an unprecedented level of resource to allocate. Of course, that is down to the broad shoulders of the British Government, which is supporting individuals, businesses and public services in Scotland at these times of unprecedented difficulty.
Since that debate, even more money has been forthcoming. Following the announcements in the UK budget just last week, an extra £1.1 billion is coming to the Scottish Government from the British Treasury. We know that, when the finance secretary did her original budget calculations, she assumed a £500 million uplift, so the UK budget has left her with even more cash than she anticipated.
That money is needed. It is needed to support people who are suffering from the consequences of Covid. It is needed to support the many businesses throughout the country that are struggling to survive, thanks to the Covid restrictions. In every previous debate on finance in the chamber, I have raised the need to support businesses that are struggling. I make no apology for doing so again, because we continue to hear daily from people who are falling through the net of business support. We need a renewed focus on providing funding, particularly for the category of businesses that are not legally obliged to close but which have experienced a substantial fall in trade as a result of restrictions elsewhere in the economy.
Unlike Mr Mason, I have confidence in the finance secretary’s ability to cope with late announcements on money. As we see from the budget that has been put together and we are debating today, the late announcements do not seem to have been a handicap. Mr Mason might not have noticed that we have had a global pandemic, which has had an impact on the ability of Governments everywhere in the world to plan their finances.
Our major ask in the budget was more funding for local government. According to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the core funding increase that is being delivered this year amounts to just 0.9 per cent and leaves a gap of around £350 million, which councils need to stand still—that would not provide additional services; it would simply preserve current services.
The 0.9 per cent increase goes only halfway towards funding the Scottish Government’s previous pay policy of a 1 per cent increase for people who earn up to £80,000, but we now know that, as a result of the deals that the finance secretary has done, the Government’s public pay policy has changed. The policy is now to deliver a 2 per cent increase for those who earn up to £40,000. No thought seems to have been given to the impact that that will have on council budgets. If councils are to match that pay policy for local government workers, as local government workers will expect them to do, they will wonder where the money will come from. COSLA estimates that the change in pay policy will cost councils £300 million in the coming year. However, in the revised budget that has been announced this afternoon, the finance secretary has not produced an extra penny to support local government.
Once again, councils are the whipping boy of a Scottish National Party budget. While the Scottish Government budget increases by an unprecedented amount, councils are seeing their resources squeezed and will have to cut local services as a result. The Scottish Conservatives want fair funding for councils, and this budget does not deliver that.
We should perhaps not be surprised that the Greens are backing a budget that damages councils, because they have form for that. Indeed, we should not be surprised that the Greens are backing an SNP budget, because, as surely as night follows day, the Greens go the SNP way. However, I am disappointed in the Liberal Democrats. I thought that they would have more sense than to vote for an SNP budget that is damaging councils.
Would Murdo Fraser agree that the difference between him and me is that, when the finance secretary comes forward with policies that we argued for, we feel duty bound to back those proposals, but when she backs proposals that he came forward with, such as 100 per cent business rates relief, he does not vote for them? Is he not being a little bit disingenuous?
I look forward to Mr Rennie deploying that argument on the doorsteps in North East Fife to all my Conservative friends. We will see how he gets on in the next few weeks.
It was good to see some progress being made on the introduction of free school meals for all primary pupils, although it is being done over two years when it should have been introduced over one. Again, that was a key budget ask of ours that was not delivered.
Yesterday, at the Finance and Constitution Committee, I raised the issue of land and buildings transaction tax. The finance secretary is insisting that the threshold for LBTT payments, which was temporarily raised to £250,000, must return to £145,000 next month, despite the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has extended an uplift for the equivalent tax in England, as, indeed, has the Government in Wales, and that the block grant adjustment would provide additional resources to extend that tax cut if she wanted to do so. That means that, from April, house purchasers in Scotland will be hit with a higher tax bill than those elsewhere.
Yet, as we know, revenue from LBTT in the period from September amounted to £39 million more than was generated in the same period last year. That means that reducing the tax burden delivered a higher revenue. That is perhaps an illustration of the Laffer curve that Mr McKee is always so glad for me to explain to him. I hope even now that the finance secretary can think again about that issue, because she might find that she is depriving herself of tax revenue and that, by extending the increase in the threshold, she might take in more tax, as we have demonstrated over the past few months.
No—I am in my last minute.
For the reasons that I have outlined, this is not a budget that we can support. Despite having at its disposal unprecedented resources coming from the British Government, the SNP has not delivered on key policies to improve Scotland for all its residents and, in particular, the budget will once again damage local services, because councils will be struggling to balance their budgets while the Scottish Government sits on piles of cash. For all of those reasons, we will oppose the budget at decision time tonight.
I begin by adding my tribute to Bruce Crawford. I have to admit that my tenure and his on the Finance and Constitution Committee will overlap only briefly. Nonetheless, I recognise the contribution that he has made to Parliament. He is a parliamentarian who has widespread admiration across this chamber, so I wish him well with his retirement.
We must ensure that we recover and rebuild from this pandemic. That is the imperative for this budget and it is how it should be judged. The budget lines that it prioritises will determine whether we have the capacity to undo the damage that has been done. Additional funds being spent on the right things will ensure that we build resilience as we learn to cope with the virus. Spending funds on the wrong things will mean that we will continue to struggle and will fail to cope with the virus as it continues to linger.
This budget and the coming parliamentary session must be focused on recovery from a virus that has shattered our public services, communities and economy. However, as the emergence of new variants makes clear, this virus is persistent. It will not end with the vaccination programme. The vaccination programme will merely stabilise the situation and give us the ability to cope with the virus. Therefore, in that context, we must focus not only on recovery but on building resilience.
On-going infection control and social distancing will have a profound effect on our ability to deliver healthcare and education, disrupting businesses that rely on contact with customers and continuing to place a strain on social interactions. Therefore, we need strategic measures and bold steps to build and secure that recovery and resilience. We need to move beyond the week-to-week measures that are necessitated by crisis and learn to cope.
On the Labour benches, we are clear that improving the pay of social care workers would have been such a move. Currently, the median pay for social care workers across the UK is around £10 an hour. The critical and vital work that they do, caring for the most vulnerable in our society, has been undervalued and underpaid for far too long. The pandemic has simply underlined and magnified that. That is why Labour has made the call for social care workers to gain an immediate increase of £12 an hour, with a plan to implement £15 an hour, to recognise their work and to build a care system that is skilled, effective and resilient.
Our priority going into the budget was to correct a key structural failing that has been exposed by the pandemic: the inadequate pay of social care workers. I know that the cabinet secretary agrees with that sentiment and agrees that those workers have been at the forefront of the response, and I know that she accepts that good social care is preventative spend that can save money and remove pressure on our health service, because ensuring that vulnerable people are healthy at home is better for everyone than fighting to treat them and get them well again in hospital. She knows those things, but the Government has made different choices.
Make no mistake: increasing pay for social care workers would be a financial challenge. I accept that, but the cabinet secretary has the financial headroom to deliver it. As confirmed at the Finance and Constitution Committee yesterday, the budget has an additional £1.3 billion of recurring funds in it, but other things have seemingly been prioritised. The recent UK budget delivered another £1.2 billion, albeit in non-recurring funds, but that has been allocated to other things, and more than £1 billion in Covid money carried over from the previous financial year has been prioritised for other issues.
The direct cost of increasing pay for social care workers across the public, voluntary and private sectors would be around £480 million, which is a large sum, but in the context of those additional funds, realistic and deliverable. Four hundred and eighty million pounds would transform the pay of such critical workers in such a critical service. Compare £480 million to the £100 million that the deal with the Green Party secured, which amounts to nearly 1 per cent above inflation and does not necessarily carry through to NHS or local authority workers. I say bluntly that social care workers deserve more than the 20p per hour that this budget seems to imply they are worth.
There are of course elements of the budget that I commend. I welcome the commitment of £45 million to replace the eye pavilion in Edinburgh, but we need to see the detail and I am worried by the caveated words from the cabinet secretary in response to Sarah Boyack. Waiting times were concerning before Covid and are now at very serious levels. The budget needs to step up so that we no longer need to make the choice between treating the virus and treating cancer. Money to reduce class sizes and extend free school meals is welcome, but £60 million against the £1 billion that is spent every year on schools will struggle to counteract the gaps in our children’s knowledge, and we are yet to see the progress on free school meals that was promised by previous budgets, before we rush to welcome the latest announcement.
Local government has carried the burden of much of the economic response to Covid but, despite the sums promised in this budget, there remains a Covid funding gap that is estimated to be £518 million on top of the real-terms cuts that local government has experienced since 2013 of £937 million.
Our economy is shattered. The simple fact is that many consumer-facing businesses will struggle to survive; despite pledges, guidance remains unclear. Funds remain slow in being delivered to the businesses that need them. I have heard first hand from bed and breakfast owners in my constituency that they have had to cash in their pensions because their applications to the discretionary fund have been declined. Despite Scottish Government promises, many funds remain underclaimed. The budget should have been about spending better as well as spending more.
Those are the choices that have been made by the Government and those priorities are supported by the Greens and Liberal Democrats. Those concessions improve the budget, which is why we voted for those amendments, but I fear that they are not the bold strategic steps that are needed to transform social care or deliver the recovery and resilience that is required. For those reasons, Scottish Labour cannot support the budget at decision time. I do not state that with pleasure or relish.
The pandemic means that no one wants the squabbling over the budget that old politics would expect, but I also strongly feel that challenging times require Opposition parties to challenge the Government. The budget will undoubtedly pass, but I ask those who support it whether the budget meets the challenge of building recovery and resilience.
I sincerely hope that the budget does not hold back money for gimmicks or flourishes for the SNP in the coming election. If it does, we will look at how what is being spent measures up to what could have been paid for—the additional pay for social care workers, which they deserve. Care workers will certainly compare their pay packets with the budget to see whether their true worth is being valued.
Daniel Johnson is right that no one wants to see squabbling during a global pandemic. Our quiet work has secured a reprioritisation of £300 million towards mental health support, the education bounce-back plan, the economy and jobs, support for the north-east on the just transition, and the environment.
The public expect us to work together because these are exceptional times. We are in the middle of a global pandemic in which thousands of people have lost their lives, thousands more have lost their jobs and people live with restrictions every day. We need to put recovery first and have a needle-sharp focus on it, which we have sought to do. We have done that over the past year by working with the Government whenever we could. Members know me—I am Mr Consensual. The only thing that makes me have doubts is Jackie Baillie silently giving me the scolding look across the chamber that I know many others have experienced recently, too.
We have tried to make a difference in the budget. It is not perfect, but we are pleased and proud that we have increased the mental health budget by £120 million to £1.2 billion. We got steps in the right direction on the Princess Alexandra eye pavilion, which we will watch closely. There is £60 million for the bounce-back plan in education, plus £20 million for the pupil equity fund premium. There is £5 million for agri-environment schemes. We were pleased that the finance secretary accepted the Conservatives’ proposal on 100 per cent rates relief for businesses, which is a step in the right direction. The support for bed and breakfasts and self-catering accommodation is another step in the right direction. For councils, there is £90 million next year to protect services in future years and avoid massive council tax increases.
All those things are good. I am particularly pleased about the support fund for skills and retraining in the north-east, which I might call the Mike Rumbles fund. That will help with the just transition from oil and gas and represents another important set of proposals. We argued for all those things.
Another thing that I agree with Daniel Johnson on is social care workers’ pay. We need to make a substantial change; we cannot accept simply superficial changes to change the name to national care service and expect everything to be resolved. We need to pay such workers more.
The past year has shown that the social care sector is not robust and strong enough. The sector’s high staff turnover alone should tell us that we need substantial changes. We must all work together to re-engineer the budget substantially so that we can pay those people more. They have sacrificed their lives in the past year. We must make a difference in the next parliamentary session to get a decent rate of pay for them.
I thank the finance secretary for her co-operative approach. She is no-nonsense—she likes to be straight, honest and up front on her proposals, and I appreciated her approach. As a result, we have a better budget. We have avoided the squabbling, got the budget going through and put money in people’s pockets when they need it. The last thing that people wanted from the Parliament was for us to continue to argue while people struggle in their daily lives.
There is £300 million extra for priorities that Liberal Democrats set out. We can support that.
Oh, go on—here is one last tribute to Bruce Crawford, our outgoing Finance and Constitution Committee convener. I think that we will all miss him—he has managed to achieve a collegiate atmosphere on the committee, despite my occasional efforts to amend all those committee reports.
My favourite memory will be the look of joy on his face when I shared with him a bottle of Glasgow Mega Death hot sauce. If his speech in this debate is to be his final speech, I ask him to use the opportunity to spice up the debate a bit—don’t hold back, convener.
The Scottish Greens went into the budget process wanting to put forward three key priorities. First, we wanted it to be recognised that the Scottish Government’s pay policy, as published, needed to go further. Secondly, we wanted to make sure that the economic impact on some of the most vulnerable households in Scotland was recognised and to support household incomes for those people. Thirdly, we wanted to sow the seeds for a green recovery.
I think that we have managed to achieve a significant package on each of those key priorities. In relation to a green recovery, investment is increasing in active travel, energy efficiency, agri-environment schemes and more, but the policy also connects with policies such as the expansion of free bus travel, which will be of immediate benefit to those who gain access to it. Not just young people aged 19 and under but young people aged 21 and under will get that practical and financial benefit. As we continue to expand that policy, it will help to normalise public transport use in Scotland and to continue the shift away from car use and to public transport that we need to see.
On free school meals, we never thought that the Scottish Government needed to wait until the next election to make promises, even though it is in only a couple of months’ time, and then leave it to the Parliament in the next session to decide what to do. We thought that action should have been taken in the current session, and I am pleased that we now have a clear timetable for rolling out free school meals on a universal basis at primary level. Greens will continue to advocate for further progress there.
The pandemic support payments to households that are in receipt of council tax reduction and families whose children currently qualify for free school meals will make a significant difference, and anti-poverty organisations have welcomed that. It is not just a case of providing universal access to those payments; it is also a case of ensuring that they are targeted at those households that need them the most. That will make a difference to those who have suffered most severely from the economic impact of the pandemic.
On public sector pay, we were very clear that we wanted a solution that would go further for people at the lowest end of the income scale. We never thought that it was justified that any high earner should get a bigger increase in their salary as a result of the pay settlement than the lowest earners. Progress has been made for the lowest earners. We wanted there to be a progressive approach throughout the income scale, and we have managed to ensure that people who earn up to £40,000 will get 2 per cent.
However, we are absolutely convinced, as others have made clear, that that needs to be a benchmark—a baseline—for the sectoral negotiations that must take place. Those who have made the case for further progress on health and social care, for example, make a very strong—indeed, an unanswerable—case, but the negotiation and the collective bargaining process need to continue. [Interruption.]
I am afraid that I do not have time; I am in my final few seconds.
We have advanced the baseline, and we will continue to make progress.
My final point is that, in the next session, we will face very deep questions, on which cross-party consensus will be required, regardless of the parliamentary arithmetic. We will have to think deeply about Scotland’s entire tax base. We will have to make decisions that will have lasting repercussions. They must be decisions that lead us towards a more equal and more sustainable society. Those are challenges that the Parliament will have to grapple with and make decisions on in the next session, and it will need to do that on the basis of some degree of consensus, regardless of the parliamentary arithmetic.
I will begin my speech with a contribution on the budget for 2021-22. However, as this will be my final speech in a debate at Holyrood, I would also like to take some time to say a few thank yous, as well as make some remarks reflecting on my time as a member of the Parliament of Scotland.
On the budget, I congratulate Kate Forbes, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, for putting together a well-constructed budget for recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Kate Forbes entered the challenge of her post in the most difficult of circumstances, but she has acquitted herself with great aplomb and has grown into a finance secretary of very real stature.
When I compare the approach to the budget of Kate Forbes and the Scottish Government with that of the main Opposition in the shape of the Conservatives, the contrast really could not be starker. It simply beggars belief that, despite the fact that we are now only three weeks away from a new budget year, and in the midst of the greatest crisis since the second world war, the Tories cannot bring themselves to vote for a budget at this time. I believe that the Conservatives’ stance of opposition for opposition’s sake throughout the current session of Parliament because of their dislike of the SNP will come to be their electoral undoing.
In my final speech, there are some things that I must say. To be frank, I have been extremely disappointed by some of the commentary that I have seen, particularly on social media, in which MSP colleagues have made spiteful and sometimes nasty comments about fellow MSPs. Many on the receiving end have been my friends for decades, and I can tell members that I find such comments hurtful and distressing. I genuinely hoped that the pandemic would usher in a kinder and more considered type of politics. I can only hope that, after the coming election, the reset button will be pressed and a greater degree of respect will be found—much as Patrick Harvie suggested—both between MSPs and between the political parties, in order that the job of politics can be done as the citizens of Scotland expect from their elected representatives.
Some of my friends at Holyrood will be aware that I seriously considered standing down at the previous election, but my good friend John Swinney persuaded me not to do so. He is a man whom we are extremely fortunate to have as our Deputy First Minister and education secretary. On reflection, and despite the very challenging circumstances of the pandemic, I am glad that I made the decision to continue for a further parliamentary session.
Although the circumstances are certainly not ones that any of us would have chosen for their last year at Holyrood, I am pleased to have been able to utilise my experience as an elected representative of 33 years—first as a councillor and then as an MSP—to provide assistance and support to a great many individuals, businesses and organisations in the Stirling constituency who have needed my help over the past 12 months.
There are so many people that I would like to say thank you to. I will start with a huge thank you to the many wonderful constituents with whom I have been in contact over the years. I thank the amazing staff in my constituency office, who have supported me marvellously for two decades. I thank the officials and staff at Holyrood, who have always shown me the greatest respect and have provided me with support whenever it was required. I thank many MSP colleagues throughout the chamber for the comradeship that they have shown. I thank the officials and members of the Scottish Government for their commitment and effort on behalf of the people of Scotland.
In concluding my thanks, let me mention and give particular thanks to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who has been my personal friend for over 20 years. No other First Minister in history has had to endure the pressure that she has been subjected to while holding the office. Her leadership during the pandemic has been truly outstanding, and I publicly and sincerely thank her for all the sacrifices that she has made on behalf of the nation.
In reflecting on my time as an MSP, I will begin with the wonderful opening day of this Parliament, in 1999. The memory of the reconvening of Scotland’s Parliament after a period of more than 300 years is one that I will cherish for evermore. So, too, will I cherish the memory of winning the Stirling constituency, being part of the first-ever SNP Government and, as a result, being in a position to do my bit to ensure that the minority Government stayed the course and delivered for the people of Scotland.
It has been an honour and the privilege of my life to be a member of this Parliament for the Stirling constituency, as well as to serve in Government and to be the convener of a number of parliamentary committees, particularly the Finance and Constitution Committee in the current session. For me, it has always been about service, improving the lot of the people of Scotland and, ultimately, the people of this nation taking full responsibility for their own destiny.
With those comments, Presiding Officer, I sign off my final contribution to a debate at Holyrood by wishing everyone all the very best. I sincerely hope that all of you and your families have as safe and peaceful a future as is possible. [Applause.]
I put on record my best wishes to Bruce Crawford for the future.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important budget debate, which, once again, takes place against the backdrop of an immensely difficult 12 months.
Although there are measures in this year’s budget that the Scottish Conservatives welcome, it represents a failed opportunity to place Scotland’s economic recovery at the forefront of our priorities. The bottom line is that, despite an unprecedented level of support from the UK Government, the budget lacks the bold action that Scotland needs if we are to emerge stronger from these severe economic headwinds, which we are not alone as a nation in facing.
The chamber will not need reminding that, as the Scottish Fiscal Commission has warned, Scotland’s economy will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest. That highlights the scale of the monumental challenge before us all. As members on the Conservative benches have already spoken to, we had some clear asks of the Government—asks that would have placed Scotland in prime position to meet that challenge head on.
From my perspective, the aspect of this year’s budget that is most disappointing is that it fails to deliver the necessary and vital support to Scotland’s cash-strapped councils, which are facing the economic brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic. With Scotland’s councils facing a combined budget shortfall of an eye-watering £511 million, worsened by consistent spending cuts to core funding by the SNP Government over several years, they deserve unprecedented financial support to respond to the pandemic. COSLA has consistently reiterated its concerns in that regard and has identified serious shortcomings in this year’s budget.
It is grossly unfair that, as the Scottish Government’s own budget is going to dramatically increase because of support from the UK Government, the core funding increase to local government will amount to less than 1 per cent. The persistent underfunding of Scotland’s local councils by this Government is simply no longer acceptable. They provide so many of the local services that Scots rely on, from the disposal of our waste to the upkeep of our leisure facilities, which could be placed at serious risk if they are not funded properly.
Murdo Fraser spoke of how Scotland’s councils have been the whipping boys of the SNP budget. If this budget is passed, it will demonstrate that they most certainly are. To right that wrong, the Scottish Conservatives have called for the introduction of a fair funding deal. That would award our local authorities with a set proportion of the Scottish Government’s budget each year, which would mirror the relationship that the Scottish Government has with the UK Government. The new framework would provide our councils with the financial certainty that they need to ensure the provision of key local services, some of which I have mentioned.
Local councils know their residents best. They can play a leading role in both rebuilding our communities and empowering them to meet the diverse range of economic challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. However, the blunt truth is that, having been short changed for years, they cannot do it on the cheap.
We, on the Conservative benches, have it made clear that we want to back Scotland’s local councils to the hilt, and we will make that argument loud and clear as we approach the elections in May. In the meantime, we cannot vote for this budget, because, among other reasons, it does not go far enough towards providing Scotland’s councils with the level of support that they deserve.
I congratulate the cabinet secretary on reaching agreement with two other parties this year.
It is good that the UK Government is continuing to borrow into 2021-22, so that both it and we can continue to deal with Covid and, I hope, help the economy to recover. I accept that it may not yet be the time to raise taxes, because we want people who have spare cash to be out there spending it as soon as possible in order to keep businesses and jobs going.
On other hand, I do not think that the public finances can afford tax cuts. The Conservatives have suggested tax cuts—in particular, that there should be no LBTT on transactions of more than £145,000. There are a number of reasons why that is not a good idea. First, the NHS and local government need the money for public services. Secondly, the policy does not help those who are in greatest need and who do not own their own homes. Thirdly, it does not even help many ordinary folk who buy a flat or a house for less than £145,000. For example, flats in the estate where I live go for about £70,000.
I was intrigued to see that the Conservatives down south are looking at increasing corporation tax in the medium term. That is a bit of a change of tack for them, and I say that it is welcome. I hope that the Tories in this Parliament will welcome the need for increased taxation if we are to protect public services.
On the subject of taxation more generally, as the cabinet secretary pointed out in her letter of 2 March to the Finance and Constitution Committee, we are “limited” when we do not have
“full devolution of tax powers”.
Income tax, in particular, is a problem. It is still, in essence, a reserved tax, with the Scottish Government having the power only to vary rates. The UK income tax system is far too complex to start with, and it is made worse by having national insurance as a separate and highly regressive tax on top.
On the spending provisions, I very much welcome the record spending on the NHS, the focus on mental health and, of course, the increase to a 2 per cent pay rise for most public sector workers. I accept that most of us would like higher increases for many workers, but we have to live within our means.
The reality is that, even with UK borrowing, there are limits to spending. We have increased NHS spending over a number of years. If Opposition members feel that we have not given enough to local government, as Annie Wells has just said, they must think that we have given too much to the NHS. Those are the two main parts of our budget, so providing more for one almost inevitably means providing less for the other.
On capital spending, I very much welcome the continued emphasis on housing—especially on social rented and other affordable housing. In recent years—and even right now—in the Glasgow Shettleston constituency we have affordable housing going up in Dalmarnock, Bridgeton, Parkhead, Calton, Baillieston and Shettleston itself, to name but a few places. We cannot overstate how important such housing is. It means that people can have good-quality housing that they can afford, it helps people to overcome fuel poverty and, as we have seen in recent months, it gives young people the space to study effectively, even when that is being done remotely.
I am always uneasy when we talk about longer-term borrowing for revenue costs, be that by individuals or by the country. However, we should certainly be borrowing for capital expenditure, especially for housing. It is disappointing that the UK Government has cut back on our capital spending, especially financial transaction money.
Such housing investment gives our communities long-lasting assets, at the end of the day, and it creates jobs and boosts the economy along the way. It should certainly be possible for the Scottish Government to borrow prudently, as local authorities can, rather than having artificial limits placed on it by Westminster.
Overall, I am very pleased to support the budget. It has been a strange year, and it looks as though 2021-22 will not be normal either, but we can have confidence, in Scotland at least, that the public finances are in safe hands.
I, too, warmly wish Bruce Crawford well for the future. I thank him for the many thoughtful contributions that I have had the privilege of listening to in my short time in Parliament.
The past year has been tough for everyone. More than 7,000 lives and tens of thousands of livelihoods have been lost. Families and friends have been separated, and the attainment gap in our schools has become a chasm. The national crisis cried out for a national recovery plan to get us through the trauma of the Covid pandemic. We needed a budget that would start to fix the foundations of the economy, protect our NHS, tackle Scotland’s plague of inequality and reward our key workers. Instead, sadly, we have a budget that has, largely, just papered over the cracks.
I know that Covid did not create the inequalities in our society, the weaknesses in our economy or the utter neglect of our social care system, but it has cruelly exposed them. More than ever, we needed a bold and ambitious budget to take Scotland forward, but we have instead a budget that barely brings us back to where we were before the coronavirus.
That is the case not least when it comes to a group of workers who have been so badly let down during the pandemic—Scotland’s social care staff. They have been let down by a lack of personal protective equipment, a lack of testing and a lack of proper guidance. That meant that Covid-positive patients were transferred into our care homes, but those workers looked after our loved ones as if they were their own—often caring for them in their final moments as Covid took its terrible toll in our care homes. They did so in return for wages that, frankly, we should be ashamed of. We were all quick to clap for those care workers during the first lockdown, but it is not our praise that they need; it is an increase in their wages.
That is why Labour did not make unreasonable demands during the budget process. We gave our backing to the calls by the GMB for £15 per hour for care staff. We did not demand that it happen overnight, but instead asked for a first step of £12 per hour in this budget. That would be entirely affordable with just a fraction of the extra funds that the Government has received since it published its draft budget.
Although we would like to have seen much more being improved in the budget, we made it clear that we would back it if the Government agreed to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work for our social carers. However, the Government has failed to provide that. The cabinet secretary said she recognises that Labour engaged in good faith to seek a better deal for our care workers. However, we want her to recognise those care workers. They were there when we needed them most, so it is a shame that the cabinet secretary is not there when they need her. Sadly, promises of jam tomorrow do not go far enough.
The budget was a chance for the Parliament to come together to unite and stand with our carers. It was a test of how serious we are about genuinely building back better. However, when it comes to social care, Parliament has failed the test.
However, Scotland’s social care workers can rest assured of one thing: Labour is on their side and will continue to stand with them until we get the better pay deal that they deserve.
In the short time that I have, I want to touch on the fact that it is important to consider the budget in the context of the previous four in this session of Parliament. If we do that, one thing that stands out is the single biggest attack on local council services in living memory. Despite having the largest budget in the history of devolution, this year’s local government budget is still 2.4 per cent lower, in real terms, than it was in 2013-14. Even before the allocation of the recent additional consequentials, the Scottish Government’s budget was 3.1 per cent higher.
Since 2013-14, local government has faced a cumulative cut of £4.3 billion, tens of thousands of council jobs have been cut and services have been axed. I have never quite worked out why the SNP has such disdain for local government.
During the past four years, our councillors have seen a determined attack on the services that the most vulnerable people rely on. For four years, councillors the length and breadth of Scotland have had to wrestle with painful cuts.
At a time when one third of Scotland's schoolchildren are leaving school without the expected literacy and numeracy levels, we have seen savage attacks on learning support staff.
I will do, Presiding Officer.
At a time when one third of Scotland’s school children are obese, we have seen a record number of leisure centre closures.
In the next parliamentary session, we need to consider again how local government is funded and how to support properly the services that we all rely on.
During the past year, public services, businesses and families have faced unprecedented challenges, so recovery has to be our core focus during the coming financial year. I am glad that that is the approach that the Scottish Government is taking with the budget, which meets the needs of the nation.
First and foremost, I welcome the fact that the health portfolio will receive additional resources, both for core health services and for suppressing the spread of Covid-19, with funding at a record £16 billion. That is an increase of more than £800 million.
After the UK Government’s insult of a public sector pay freeze, most of Scotland’s public sector will receive a pay rise of either £800 or 2 per cent. That acts as a benchmark for pay-deal negotiations between employers, trade unions and the NHS workforce. During the past year, we have all relied on our public sector workers, and they now rely on their elected representatives to pass the budget so that they can receive their well-deserved pay rise.
At the same time, many families across Scotland will benefit from a council tax freeze, thanks to £90 million that is being made available to local authorities specifically for that purpose. That includes £2.182 million for North Ayrshire Council, which covers my constituency.
Thus, local taxpayers will again have respite from increasing council taxes in 2021-22—just as they did for nine consecutive years from 2008 to 2017. It is therefore no surprise that the average band E council tax is £1,338 per year in Scotland, which is a thumping £480 less than it is in Tory England, and the gulf is set to widen further. Two thirds of English councils are imposing the maximum 4.9 per cent council tax rise, which is far in excess of inflation. That is not to mention the derisory 1 per cent pay rise that is being offered to nurses in England.
The Tories, of course, removed the need to consult on council tax rises. Until last November, any local authority in England that was planning a rise of more than 2 per cent had to hold a local referendum, but no longer. In Saturday’s The Daily Telegraph, the Local Government Association said:
“Councils face the tough choice about whether to increase bills to bring in desperately needed funding ... at a time when we are acutely aware of the significant burden that this could place on some households.”
As I have recounted in detail many times over the years in budget debates, the Tories have eviscerated English council budgets, so for the Tories in this chamber, utterly beholden to their bosses in London, to come here and pretend to be the defenders of local government in Scotland, is an insult to the intelligence of every Scottish voter. To make it the fig leaf from behind which they oppose the budget, which they would never support under any circumstances, stretches the credibility of even the most gullible. The Tories should just be honest and say, “It’s an SNP budget, so we won’t support it.”
The council tax freeze is only one part of the budget, which also introduces free school meals for all primary pupils and a £100 million programme of one-off pandemic support payments to help to relieve the significant financial stress of families across Scotland.
Housing was another Tory gripe, yet in the four years to 2020 the SNP Government built more than nine times more social rented homes per head of population in Scotland than were built in England. Under this Government, 4,340 new homes have been built in North Ayrshire, including 496 council and 1,022 housing association homes. The funding for North Ayrshire Council to build homes amounts to £67.916 million over the past five years alone.
I am delighted that ferry service resources will increase from £255.1 million to £287.6 million—an increase of almost 13 per cent. That is invaluable to my island constituents. Motorway and trunk road expenditure will rise by more than 10 per cent, from £748.9 million to £825.9 million, while rail expenditure will rise by more than 4 per cent to £1.3149 billion.
I recall 2009, when Labour set out a list of demands for the Scottish Government. The finance secretary met them all, yet Labour still voted against the budget in panic at impending electoral defeat. When no budget had been approved a week later, they felt forced to vote for exactly the same budget. It is time for Labour to get behind this budget, too, and not to ask for what they know cannot be delivered without either significant increases in taxes or switching of resources from other portfolios—neither of which they have identified.
Equally, I am delighted that the cabinet secretary has listened to businesses and included in the budget their number 1 demand, which is extension of 100 per cent rates relief for the retail, hospitality, leisure, newspaper and aviation sectors for a further year; £719 million of support added to £120 million of—
I will do so. That was backed by £1.1 billion of investment in jobs and skills.
Although the coming year will be difficult, the budget puts us on a clear path to a fairer, greener and more prosperous post-pandemic Scotland.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. On the off chance that I lose track and forget to do this, I say that, having served under Bruce Crawford in the previous session of Parliament on the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, on which you also served, I regard him as one of the statesmen of Scottish politics and think that he will be remembered as the best Presiding Officer that this Parliament never had. I wish him well for his retirement. That was not to denigrate your role in the chair, Presiding Officer. Having worked alongside you in the north-east of Scotland across a range of issues, I say that, although we have seldom agreed, we have always disagreed respectfully, so I also wish you well as you step down from Parliament at the end of the session.
I will back the budget at decision time. I am grateful that the cabinet secretary was good enough to meet me and to come back to me on some of the specific points that I raised. I recognise that she takes a slightly different from me on the tax issue, but perhaps the wider debate that the Finance and Constitution Committee has sought to encourage will serve as a better way to explore the best way to ensure that tax in Scotland is progressive in both nature and utility.
There is no doubt that we face an uncertain future as we emerge from the pandemic and the past year has given us all pause to reflect on the things that truly matter the most to us. That must also be true of the expenditure priorities of Government. That means looking at how finances are allocated in global sums but, crucially, it is also about how that funding filters down to the communities that we all represent.
Mental health is a topic that has been at the centre of much discussion in the chamber and it has been brought into even sharper focus by the pandemic. Large-scale expenditure is of course to be welcomed, but if that money is not directed to community-based services that are there to relieve pressure on the crisis end of the system, all that we do is create and maintain a self-perpetuating cycle of tragedy. I hope that there will be careful reflection on how that money is to be spent.
I will, however, play no part in those future deliberations, and it is perhaps appropriate that I now turn to some wider reflections. I have thought long and hard about what to say at this moment, how to find the right words to say and whether it is even appropriate to talk about the concept of achievements when they will never be the things that people think of in relation to my time here. Nevertheless, I remain proud of my work on issues around autism and disabilities. I have tried where possible to amplify the voices of those who are less often heard and to champion causes that matter not just to my family but to many others out there across Scotland.
There have been many gains in that time, such as the expansion of autism-friendly social experiences and the improvement of accessibility of public buildings for people with autism, including this very Parliament building. There have been gains in support for carers and the campaign for changing places toilets. Where and when I can after I have left this place, I will continue to advocate on those issues, because I will have a lifelong interest in them.
I commend the member for his efforts in advocating for those with autism. I give him the pledge that I and others who are returned to the Parliament will continue to raise those issues, because they are highly important. I thank him for his efforts.
I am grateful to Daniel Johnson for that. I know that others share that passion and will continue to advance the issues in the next session of Parliament.
I am also proud to have been able to introduce the baby box to Scotland, which is something that friends and constituents who have had babies since 2017 have been keen to tell me they have been delighted to receive. Its latest iteration, which was introduced by my successor Maree Todd, followed the same approach that I instigated of having a competition to provide an interactive design for the box. I hope that the scheme continues to be a great success in the years to come, showcasing ambition for Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up in.
I am, however, only too aware that none of those things will be foremost in anyone’s mind as I speak in this chamber for the final time. I recognise that I have made poor decisions in my life and, although I have never set out to deliberately cause upset to anyone, the fact that people felt hurt and upset by my actions causes me immense regret and sorrow. Although I have apologised sincerely for those actions, I want to take the opportunity to do so in the chamber: I am sorry.
I have learned a lot about myself over the past few years, and I hope that I have been able to emerge as a better person as a consequence. It is difficult to describe how it feels to have a version of yourself held up in front of you that you do not recognise as a true reflection of your character, values or intentions. I can only hope that people will take me as the person that I am now and not as the person that I perhaps once was, or have been portrayed as being.
I am grateful for the support that I have had from friends, many of whom have known me since we were at primary school together and who have stood by me through the best and worst times of my life. I am grateful for the love of my family, who pulled me back from the edge of darkness on more than one occasion. I am grateful for the support and kindness of those in this building who offered it as I found myself in a difficult place. My mantra every day is to try to be a better person today than I was yesterday and to focus on being a better person still tomorrow. I am grateful to those who believe that such a journey is possible, and I thank them for holding my hand along the way.
It has been the privilege of my life to have been able to represent the people and communities of Aberdeen Donside, where I live and grew up. I put on record my thanks to my dedicated team of staff—Kerry, Anna, Sarah and Rachel—who have delivered an outstanding level of support to constituents during the pandemic. They are fantastic individuals and I have no doubt that they will all go on to bigger and better things. I hope that the next MSP for the area will get the same level of joy and satisfaction from representing such a diverse range of communities as I have done. Although I wish that the ending had been a happier one, I sincerely and universally wish everyone good luck, good health and goodbye. [Applause.]
Before I get to my substantive contribution, I put on record the support that Mark McDonald has given to the two really important cross-party groups in the Scottish Parliament that I chair, on palliative care and on rare, genetic and undiagnosed conditions. Without his support, we would not have been able to progress a lot of very important work. I wanted to put that on the record, and I give him my good wishes for the future.
I extend my good wishes to Bruce Crawford, too. Like almost every back-bench MSP has done at one time or another, I have leaned on Bruce for his support, advice and wisdom, and I thank him for all the occasions when he has given me that over the years. I wanted to put that on record here this afternoon.
I am of course here to speak about the budget bill at stage 3, which I will be supporting. It was introduced by the Scottish Government, but it has been shaped by the Parliament. Changes to the budget were always likely, but the scope of those changes was always going to be uncertain, given the wholly unsatisfactory way in which the UK Government has progressed its own budgetary provisions, completely out of synch with Scotland’s budget process.
The Budget (Scotland) (No 5) Bill was published on 28 January, with the Scottish Government partially flying blind in relation to the sources that it would be able to deploy. Of course, the Scottish Government moved swiftly to allocate additional money both for the current financial year and into the next financial year through the budget that is before us, with Barnett consequentials of £1.1 billion being announced by the UK Government on 15 February.
Some people have sought to paint that as the largesse of the UK, but let us be clear and put it on record that that is borrowed cash, and Scottish taxpayers, along with others, will have to pay that back over many years. That said, I welcome the use of those funds, with the Scottish Government providing an additional £275 million to councils for Covid pressures, an additional £50 million for further and higher education, increases from £50 million to £90 million to help councils to introduce mitigations in schools because of Covid, and an additional £25 million to help tackle poverty and inequality.
There has also been the leverage of additional investment for the budget before us. For instance, £120 million is going into mental health, as we have heard, bringing expenditure up to £1.2 billion, and there is an additional £100 million for low-income households.
I welcome the budget deal with the Greens. It had to wait for last week’s UK budget and for unallocated consequentials to be agreed. Much of that spend has allowed us to go further and quicker in areas where we agree. I welcome the extension of free bus travel to all those aged 21 and under and the agreement on a timetable for our joint commitment to delivering free universal school meals up to primary 7 on a phased basis by August 2022.
I will also mention some of the other agreed commitments to supporting those who are most in need. That includes £130 for households receiving council tax reduction and two payments of £100 for the families of children qualifying for free school meals. As convener of the Social Security Committee, I point out that our committee has wrestled with how best to get money into the pockets of those who are most in need more generally, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. I support and warmly welcome the payments that have been announced. However, in the new session, we will want to take stock of how best we support low-income households. The Parliament must always do everything that it can.
The Scottish social security system is not there simply to mitigate the impact of a flawed UK welfare system—the benefits freeze, the bedroom tax, the rape clause and other provisions that are wholly unsatisfactory. We must use the powers that we have in this place to help those who are most in need. Other provisions in the budget do that: those supporting the best start grant and best start foods, the carers allowance supplement, the young carers grant and the job start payment, to mention just a few. Of course, there is also the game-changing Scottish child payment. Those are all levers by which we can choose to get money quickly to households that are struggling. The budget supports all those things.
If we had all the levers in this place, we could of course do more, but that is a debate for another day. Irrespective of the powers that sit in this place, we must always use them to help those who are most in need.
I have sought to focus on the use of social security powers and the related budget commitments. That is deliberate. The budget will increasingly need to be scrutinised very carefully, and that includes the budgets underpinning our agreed priorities as a Parliament. In this budget, that increases by 7.1 per cent, reaching £4 billion for the first time. We will have to ensure that the fiscal framework can support that.
I start by paying tribute to Bruce Crawford and to all those who are retiring from Parliament. I have served with Bruce twice on the Finance and Constitution Committee—I came back for more—but I of course remember his skill as the SNP business manager. Indeed, I sometimes thought that he was far too skilful for his own good, and for ours. We will miss him, and all the others, too.
Scottish Labour engaged with the cabinet secretary in good faith during the budget process. Although there is much in the budget that we would like to improve, I said at stage 1 that if the Government accepted our proposal to reward social care workers and give them the respect that they deserve, we would vote for its budget. Nothing could be more straightforward or clear, so for the SNP to set its face against rewarding our social care staff is a huge disappointment.
We clap for social care and healthcare staff every week. They rightly deserve our praise, but they also deserve a raise. They are the people who look after some of the most vulnerable people in our community; who, during the pandemic, have faced death daily, putting themselves and their families at risk; and who coped without adequate personal protective equipment, a lack of guidance and the routine discharge of Covid-positive patients from hospital to their care homes. It is therefore simply unacceptable that we should ask them to do those jobs on poverty pay.
That work force is low-paid and predominantly female, and many workers have second jobs to make ends meet. If we cannot recognise them now, when will we do so and when will we recognise the value of what they do for all of us and for society? The time for warm words has passed. Do not tell me what the Government is doing about the gender pay gap when it ignores this game-changing opportunity. Do not tell me how grateful the SNP is for health and social care workers when it ignores them when it counts most, and do not tell me that collective bargaining—which I heartily approve of—will get us there. The situation requires a step change from the cabinet secretary and a pay rise now.
The Scottish Government has received billions of pounds to deal with Covid. I accept that a lot of that is non-recurring money—indeed, the cabinet secretary confirmed to me yesterday at the Finance and Constitution Committee that she is carrying forward £1.1 billion into the new financial year. However, she also confirmed that over and above that, the Scottish Government has £1.3 billion in recurring funding on top of its existing budget. The cost of providing an immediate wage rise of £12 an hour would have been £470 million, according to the cabinet secretary—I suspect that it is less, but let us accept that figure.
The SNP has said to social care workers that they are worth 20p per hour more—that is all. The cabinet secretary has said that she cannot afford to do anything in the budget because she does not have sufficient recurring funding but that she might be able to find the funding in May. If she can find it then, she can find it now; it is the same financial year—the same budget. I cannot hide my disappointment that the SNP has rejected this opportunity. I am also disappointed that there is only a 2 per cent rise for NHS staff, who we would all agree have been on the front line of the pandemic.
Let me spend my last few minutes on wider issues. We all agree that we need a budget for recovery that will tackle the mass unemployment that will drive hundreds of thousands of people into poverty; that invests in business; that protects jobs and boosts economic recovery; and that remobilises our NHS for the many people who are waiting too long for diagnosis and treatment.
I can welcome much in this budget, but it does not go far enough. I welcome the extension of free school meals and the extra money for mental health. However, England and Wales spent 11 per cent of their health budget on mental health, and Scotland spent only 8 per cent. Despite the announcements, little has changed.
The coronavirus crisis might have exposed the deep inequalities in our society, but it did not create them. The truth is that when the pandemic hit, Scotland’s economy was struggling. We need a bolder, more ambitious budget that builds the foundations for a better, more prosperous future. This budget does not take us far enough down that road.
As many others have done, I pay tribute to Bruce Crawford. As Murdo Fraser said, he spoke with grace and wisdom. I was trying to think of something to add, and came up with one anecdote. Bruce and I once had breakfast together at the Holyrood hotel, and he kept asking me about Moray and agriculture. It was only when he asked me about refereeing that I realised he thought that I was Douglas Ross. [Laughter.] I had to correct him eventually.
I felt moved by Mark McDonald’s heartfelt speech. Mark and I were at university together. We did not get on particularly well then, and probably do not do so now. However, I was moved by his contribution. I think that people should be treated fairly, and there is always an opportunity for redemption.
On the matter in hand, I recognise Willie Rennie’s concession on mental health in the budget, but joining forces with the SNP and Greens is perhaps a big price to pay. As he said, he is Mr Consensual.
I congratulate the cabinet secretary on securing her budget. As I said in the debate a fortnight ago, there are many positives in it to welcome. We are all pleased to see the extra funding for the NHS, as well as the extension of 100 per cent rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and the newspaper sector. The SNP planned to end that support until the Scottish Conservatives forced it to back down. I am glad that we did, because more than 14,000 Scottish businesses will now find it easier to get through the crisis.
Regarding the freeze on income tax, despite the SNP’s natural instinct to raise taxes, thanks to pressure from the Scottish Conservatives, hard-pressed families are finally getting a break.
As ever, the Greens will vote for the budget, but it will not address the key environmental failures of the SNP. There are many of them, but I will be as brief as possible. There is the failure to meet the 2013 recycling rate target; the failure to meet biodiversity targets; the failure to eradicate fuel poverty as promised; the failure to meet the target of 11 per cent of heat from renewables by 2020; and a 400 per cent increase in incineration, making Scotland the ashtray of Europe. I could go on, but I realise that time is short. The point is that, given that climate challenge is the greatest challenge that we face, this budget will not go far enough. In some ways, it goes to show that the Greens are merely the anarchist wing of the SNP.
I just wish that the SNP had listened to the Scottish Conservatives more, and delivered a road map to recovery, both for the short term to open up businesses and for the long term in relation to low-carbon projects, such as the electric arc furnace or a plastics recycling plant. As the cabinet secretary will have been aware when she assisted in announcing the ban on plastic straws, currently only 2 per cent of plastics that are collected in Scotland for recycling is actually recycled in Scotland. For the benefit of the Greens, I point out that that leaves 98 per cent that is not.
I wish that the SNP had delivered the Swedish-style job security council that we proposed, to match up those who need work with new opportunities, or the procurement reform that we suggested to favour local businesses, protect jobs and retain wealth in our communities. Those are sensible measures that would help to start and sustain the recovery. However, we see no sign of them—rather, we have a budget that does not go far enough, despite our reasonable requests.
Due to the pandemic, councils face a £0.5 billion black hole, but the SNP voted against Scottish Conservative plans to guarantee them a proportion of the Government’s budget, rather than the SNP offer. That point was well made by Murdo Fraser, who made it clear that services will be under severe pressure. Annie Wells described councils as “the whipping boys”.
The housing budget has been slashed by £148 million, the innovation and industry budget is down by £66 million and the rail infrastructure budget has been cut by £33 million. I could go on. Do those cuts sound like this is a Government with its eye on recovery?
Contrast that with the budget that the UK chancellor has delivered, which has another £1.2 billion for Scotland, bringing the total to more than £13 billion.
I am delighted that, in the Scottish Parliament, Kate Forbes listened to the Scottish Conservatives on non-domestic rates and extended relief by 100 per cent. I am confident that if we had more Scottish Conservatives in Westminster standing up for Scotland, we would have a far stronger, better push for Scottish constituencies. Sadly, according to Pete Wishart, the longest-serving MP in Scotland, the biggest contribution of SNP MPs in a generation has been two amendments to a finance bill, asking for more information. That is hardly something for Scotland to be proud of.
We are delighted about the extension of furlough, the British Government scheme that has protected 1 million Scottish jobs, and about the millions of pounds in the UK budget for low-carbon projects in the north-east of Scotland and a North Sea transition deal that will kick off green recovery efforts. It is a British budget that is on Scotland’s side, but the SNP will oppose it simply because it comes from the Conservatives. The SNP’s focus will be on holding another illegal wildcat referendum this year—how will that support Scotland’s recovery?
The SNP needs to get its act together. Protecting jobs, helping families and launching a recovery, not a referendum—those should be its priorities.
I pay tribute to three speeches that had nothing to do with the budget. The first was by Willie Rennie, who said that the public do not want to see, witness or watch political squabbling in the middle of a global pandemic. I agree, and I am proud that, in a particularly unpleasant political climate, the budget will be supported on a cross-party basis.
The second speech was that of Bruce Crawford, who talked about kindness and respect. He said that words matter, which they do. We often talk about the rise of abuse and vitriol in Scottish political discourse, and that starts with us. I hope that we all rise to the challenge that he lay down for the next parliamentary session.
Finally, politics would be all the better and kinder if we saw more of the humility and humanity that was shared in Mark McDonald’s speech and less of the arrogance and self-righteousness that is so often associated with politicians. Self-evidently, nobody in the chamber, including me, is perfect. I commend Mark McDonald for his comments, his representation of the north-east in meetings and correspondence with me, and his service to his constituents over the years. I hope that the ring-fenced £15 million of funding for the north-east economy will serve his constituents well.
Every member in the chamber has welcomed elements of the budget in their speech. The funding and initiatives that they have welcomed and the certainty and stability that our constituents want can be delivered only if the budget is passed.
A number of members have commented on pay and public sector pay policy, and Labour members have put on record their interest in securing a fair deal for social care workers. Like Kenneth Gibson, I refute and dispute the position that the UK Government has taken in its approach to public sector and NHS pay. The approach in England is simply not fair to front-line staff, who have worked so hard during the pandemic. We recognised that hard work and gave our NHS staff a £500 thank-you bonus. We still hope that the UK Government will follow our lead and do likewise for vital health and care staff in England. We have already given a 1 per cent uplift—backdated to December—as a floor in NHS pay negotiations, and we are negotiating with staff representatives, including unions, on going further to deliver a fair pay deal.
Clearly, the wider public sector pay policy, which has been amended today, does not apply directly to NHS staff, as their pay is negotiated separately. It does indicate, though, that we are taking a different approach in Scotland, with a guaranteed pay rise of at least 3.2 per cent for those who earn less than £25,000 and 2 per cent for those who earn up to £40,000. Not only does our pay policy reflect the huge contribution that public sector workers have made in tackling the pandemic, it does so in a progressive way, prioritising pay rises for lower earners.
The Tories welcomed a number of initiatives. They called for non-domestic rates to be extended. We delivered. They called for free school meals to be extended and expanded. We have delivered. They called for additional funding for local government, which I delivered on 16 February. They can call for everything and anything that they want, but the people of Scotland will see them voting tonight against all the initiatives that they called for and all the representations that they made on behalf of Scottish businesses, Scottish families and Scottish taxpayers. They have talked about the broad shoulders of the union while seeming to forget that people in Scotland happen to pay taxes to UK Government coffers as well and that the UK Government has engineered our reliance on itself by denying us, and depriving us of, very basic fiscal powers that would allow us to borrow like every other normal Government around the world in order to deal with the pandemic.
Willie Rennie talked about what the Liberal Democrats have secured in the budget. After five years of minority Government in which, like my predecessor, I have had to negotiate with other parties, people can see the difference that other parties can make in securing their key initiatives if they engage rather than carp from the sidelines.
Patrick Harvie talked about some of the big questions that the Parliament and elected politicians will face in the future, including on the tax base. That is one area for questioning. There are others. The fiscal framework will come under review next year. The cross-party Finance and Constitution Committee has indicated where the fiscal framework should go. I have suggested a broad review of the fiscal framework, which has been found wanting during the pandemic.
The other big question is on how we reshape our economy. The budget today sets the groundwork for reshaping our economy by investing in retraining, in reskilling, in the future growth of our tech sector and in low-carbon initiatives.
John Mason talked about the need to use our funding wisely and about having to live within our means. Of course, the Scottish Government has to balance its budget. I am sure that all of us could write lists of priorities, things that we want to do and additional funding that we want to secure. That is all true, but, as John Mason said, within a balanced budget, increasing funding in one area—for example, local government—would require an honest and transparent discussion about where that funding was to come from. If the request is to increase funding for local government—which is a perfectly reasonable request to make—it must be accepted that that funding will need to come from elsewhere. We cannot ask for increases in every budget line without agreeing where they are going to come from.
One comment that did not get as much attention today was about the need for capital infrastructure and for additional investment in that infrastructure. There will be significant increases in capital investment not just over the next year but over the next five years, to provide certainty and to inject confidence in our economy. That is, of course, despite a 5 per cent cut to the Scottish Government’s capital budget, which was not reversed at the most recent UK budget. Instead, we saw a strange and unpublished approach to levelling up whereby it seems that certain seats in Scotland got more in the way of levelling-up funding—or at least a commitment to more of it—than elsewhere. The challenge that the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Scottish Government face is in the UK Government cutting our capital budgets and then deciding itself how to spend that money, purely in order to put a union jack on it. If that happens, I think that the people of Scotland will have serious questions about its priorities.
I reiterate my appreciation of the constructive nature of the cross-party discussions that we have had on the budget. This is a budget that, ultimately, delivers for the nation. It delivers for the business community, for households and for our public services. It deals with the issues of today while laying the groundwork for recovery. It will help to create and protect jobs, support a sustainable recovery and respond to the pandemic while delivering the certainty that businesses and people need.
With that in mind, I urge all members to support the budget today. I commend it to the chamber.