First Minister asks Patrick Harvie to shine Green light on SNP Budget

By Bill Heaney

The Scottish Government’s finance secretary Derek Mackay, in his Draft Budget speech claimed that he was providing a “real-terms increase” of more than £200 million to local services around the country, according to Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie.

Mr Harvie said: “However, once again, that claim ignores the fact that the Scottish Government is forcing councils to use their resources to fund Scottish Government policies.

“Within hours of the budget being published, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities shared its analysis, which showed that the reality was a more than £175 million cut.

“A few hours later, when COSLA had seen through some of the Scottish Government’s sleight of hand, it revised its analysis and said that it was a £200 million cut.

“Later, the Scottish Parliament’s independent research unit—whose impartial work sometimes shows the truth as being somewhere between what the Scottish Government and local government say—produced more detailed work, which said that the truth is a more than £300 million cut to local services.

“Councils around the country are now being forced to look at cuts to schools, social care, parks and libraries—where does the First Minister think that those cuts should fall?”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon replied: “The settlement that was outlined by Derek Mackay delivers a real-terms increase in both revenue and capital funding to local councils. That is before we take account of councils’ own ability to raise revenue through the council tax.

“Yes, that includes funding that the Scottish Government has made available to increase childcare—£210 million in revenue. Yes, it includes a transfer from health to help to fund social care. Those are all important priorities and it is absolutely right that the Scottish Government and local councils work together to ensure the delivery of those priorities.”

She added: “We have allocated all the resources at our disposal in this budget. I would like to do more for local government and health in a whole range of different areas.

“However, if Opposition parties want extra spending in some areas of the budget, they have a duty to say what areas of the budget they think that money should come from.”

Cosying up to Harvie, whose party’s support the SNP need to get their Budget through the Holyrood parliament, Nicola Sturgeon added: “We are happy to have those constructive discussions. As I said, I think that we are probably more likely to have them with Patrick Harvie and his colleagues than with other parties in the chamber. Nonetheless, they have to be hard-headed discussions, because we cannot create money out of nowhere. I look forward to having those discussions in the weeks to come.”

Patrick Harvie, who refused to be wooed – for the moment at least –  said: “I have not for a moment suggested that the new national policies are bad or inappropriate—they are important. However, if they are national policies, they should be funded from national resources and not from a raid on council budgets.

“Nor was there a word in the statement about fairer local taxation. There was nothing about genuine steps towards a replacement for the broken, unfair council tax—which the Scottish Government claims that it wants to end—and nothing about new ideas to help councils to raise money in new ways to fund the services that are needed.

“The Scottish Government keeps saying that it is open to dialogue on those issues, but we have been trying to have that dialogue, on the basis of detailed proposals, since the end of the last budget process at the start of this year.

“The question is not who is going to step up and have dialogue; the question is when we will hear a response from the Scottish Government. When will it show any hint of urgency or leadership, even in making its own policy on council tax a reality?”

The First Minister said that on spending, the Government had given extra money to local government to meet the costs of those priorities.

She added: “As far as spending is concerned—this is simply a statement of fact—if any Opposition party wants us to spend more in a particular area, it has to tell us where it thinks that we should spend less. It is a simple matter of arithmetic.”

On local tax reform, Ms Sturgeon said, the SNP had set out their tax and spending decisions “as is appropriate when we publish the draft budget”.

She added: “I know that there have already been discussions between Patrick Harvie and his colleagues and the finance secretary about tax reform, and Derek Mackay is keeping me updated on that.

“We expect those discussions to continue, and I very much hope that we can come to an agreement that sees a commitment made to local tax reform and a greater commitment to the devolution of tax powers to local authorities.

“There is a willingness to do that, and I am sure that, as is normal, we will have between now and the final votes on the budget lots of very productive discussions—or at least what I hope will be productive discussions.”

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