Scottish Budget clears first hurdle

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The Scottish Parliament has backed the first stage of the SNP’s budget for Scotland – but opposition parties failed to support a levy on supermarkets and large stores that would put £30 million into Scottish spending.

Despite passing the first stage Labour, Tories and the LibDems are expected to refuse to back the spending plans unless changes are made.

The SNP’s core pledges of a council tax freeze and a levy on the profits of large supermarket chains have been attacked by opposition parties who claim that the budget will fail to protect the economy.

Labour, who abstained with the LibDems in the vote, have already made it known that they prefer a rise in council tax to the supermarket surcharge as a way of fighting the £1.2 billion Westminster cuts.  Their spokesman Andy Kerr insisted that Labour would need “substantial changes” before the party would consider supporting the budget.

Mr Kerr added that with so many people out of work and families struggling to make ends meet the budget needed to be about “jobs, jobs and jobs”.

However the SNP hit back by pointing out that the block grant is to be cut by £1.2 billion next year and contrasted Labour’s stance on supermarket profits compared to the council tax.  The nationalists claim that Labour are backing the big four supermarkets at the expense of public services and small businesses.

SNP MSP for Dundee West Joe FitzPatrick said:

“The SNP Government’s budget for Scotland protects jobs, freezes the council tax, protects health spending, invests in our young people through EMAs and supports small business.

“In less than two hours Labour managed to cut £30 million from the Scottish budget then ask for more than £30 million more to be spent with another lengthy wishlist. The question now is where will Labour find their missing millions?

“The SNP Government is working for Scotland and the budget does just that with a council tax freeze for households, support for apprenticeships and training, backing for small businesses and protecting our health service.”

The Tories’ spokesman Derek Brownlee said the proposed budget was “in purgatory” – being neither “perfect”, nor “beyond redemption”.

LibDem MSP Jeremy Purvis, has called for more funding for colleges and pay restraint for public sector top earners.

The Scottish government have already pledged pay restraint on public sector salaries over £21,000 per year.  The finance Minister has also struck a deal with local authorities that will see them protected from the worst of the Westminster cuts.

This week First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled a pledge to spend £1 billion on the Scottish NHS should the SNP be elected for a second term.