The passing of the Scottish Parliament Budget shows – as in previous years – that the SNP is the only party committed to and capable of delivering a fair and balanced budget to provide the best outcomes for the people of Scotland.
With ever dwindling resources, the SNP Government has ensured our public services continue to operate effectively; creating an economic environment which will stimulate growth, protecting and creating jobs and mitigates some of the worst aspects of UK Welfare Reform.
The NHS remains a top priority and NHS Ayrshire will see its 2016/17 budget increase from £635.5 to £669 million, an increase of 5.3%.
Of course, there is no denying that under the current devolution settlement and with a UK Tory Government ideologically committed to rolling back the state and public spending, there were hard choices to make. UK Government cuts over a decade mean the Scottish Parliament’s resource budget is being steadily reduced year on year. The cut will be £1,500 million over the next four years, a reduction of 5.7% on top of 7.5% since the last UK Labour Government began cutting our budget in 2009. Furthermore, the Capital Budget, which allows us to channel investment, expand infrastructure and create jobs, will have been slashed by an astonishing 17% by 2019 compared to a decade earlier.
The SNP has time and again articulated an alternative to austerity. A modest boost in public spending and capital investment could kick start our economy, stimulate growth, create better transport links and facilities, make Scotland a more attractive place to do business and boost employment in the process. So far this has fallen on deaf ears.
In recent weeks, Labour argued that the solution is to raise taxes through the soon to be devolved Scottish Rate of Income Tax. For Labour to ask people to pay additional tax as the price of the austerity they happily voted for and passed on to Scotland takes some brass neck. It should not be forgotten that on 13 January 2015, Labour MPs voted with the Tories to make public spending cuts of £30 billion, taking the UK back to levels of spending not seen since the 1930s!
Held up to scrutiny, Labour tax plans have totally disintegrated and – quite apart from being unworkable – would hurt low earners and pensioners.
In their submission to the Parliament’s Finance Committee, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) made perfectly clear that raising tax across the board, as Labour advocate, would be unfair on low earners, stating:
“The STUC is concerned at the impact of a tax increase on lower wage workers – particularly those in precarious employment – when wages, which experienced an historically unprecedented collapse between 2009-14, have barely started to recover.”
Prior to 1st February Labour agreed, before suddenly calling for tax rises!
Instead of punishing households in difficult economic times, this SNP Government continues to reduce burdens. For the ninth successive year, we have fully funded a Council Tax freeze, saving an average band D property £1,500 at a time of high energy costs and falling wages.
We have abolished rates for 100,000 small businesses. According to the Federation of Small Businesses this prevented one in six from closing during the recession. As small businesses account for 43% of private sector employment, this policy prevented far higher unemployment.
The SNP Government also provides 600 hours of free high-quality childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds and vulnerable 2 year olds and we are committed to almost doubling that by 2021.
With the Tories committed to further austerity and Labour pushing for tax increases, it is clear that only the SNP has the willingness, ambition and ability to protect services, safeguard households, create jobs and make Scotland a stronger, fairer and more prosperous nation.