The Scottish Government, including me personally, engaged with a wide range of stakeholders in advance of the budget being published, including local government, trade unions and business groups, and there was wider portfolio dialogue on their respective interests. That engagement is part of our efforts to promote transparency and inform decision making. For example, we met with tax professionals, business representatives, civil society organisations, research institutes and others, and ran a consultation process on how we should use our tax powers as part of the budget.
There is a cut of £1.1 million to drug services, a £2 million real-terms cut to prisons and a £371 million real-terms cut to local authorities. In my region, West Dunbartonshire Council faces a funding gap of around £7 million, and that is not to mention the £2 million cut to attainment challenge funds in the region, which has some of the highest child poverty rates in the country. Can the cabinet secretary explain why, despite the highest block grant funding since devolution, the Scottish Government is cutting vital funds for public services?
I suggest that, rather than spinning the line that this is the biggest budget ever, the member should note that some of the comments that she has made reveal how challenging the budget is. We have had all Covid consequentials stripped out of the budget, despite the fact that we are dealing with a variant right now and that Covid will continue to have an impact. We are having to absorb all that within the block grant in next year’s budget.
The member referred to specific budget lines. On drugs support, for example, the budget includes £61 million specifically to address drug misuse, as part of our commitment to invest £250 million over the lifetime of this parliamentary session. Given the impact of the highest inflation rate for a number of years, alongside the on-going impact of Covid, it has been hugely challenging to deal with the budget. If the member would like me to increase any budget line, I look forward to her telling me where the money should come from.
Can the cabinet secretary advise the chamber on whether Ms Gosal has contacted her to suggest how much more in resources the Scottish Government should provide for the additional expenditure that she seeks, and how those resources should be paid for? They would need to be paid for either by transfers from other budget lines or by increased taxation.