Stingey Sturgeon offers local authorities more cash — but only  if they choose to freeze council tax rates

Finance Secretary Katie Forbes; Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

 By Bill Heaney

West Dunbartonshire’s health and social care workers – at least one of them died after contracting Covid 19 –  who continue to risk their lives and their own health by looking after virus victims in hospitals, care homes and  their own homes are devastated by the new pay offered to them by the SNP government in yesterday’s Scottish Budget.

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, who is interim acting leader of the Scottish Labour Party, fired a broadside at First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary Katie Forbes, for their parsimony in relation to social care workers’ pay.

She said: “On pay, there is no doubt that health and social care workers are putting themselves and their health at risk during the pandemic. The cabinet secretary [Jeane Freeman] described them as “heroes”. I could not agree more.”

Ms Baillie added: “In her statement, Jeane Freeman talked about NHS staff, but I did not hear mention of social care staff.

“The people who work in social care are predominately female and are low-paid, earning £8 to £9 an hour.

“They have cared for our older and vulnerable people during this most difficult of times.

“Surely they deserve more than the living wage, surely they finally deserve to be properly valued and recognised by society, and surely they deserve £15 an hour, as has been called for by GMB.”

During the height of the pandemic last year Ms Sturgeon and Ms Freeman repeatedly thanked social care and NHS workers “from the bottom of our hearts” for their courage and hard work.

They were assured that they would be well-rewarded and at last paid what they were worth, but even a £500 bonus paid to some of them was botched and became the subject of a row when Ms Sturgeon said she expected that the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston should pay the income tax on that.

Yesterday, Ms Baillie told the Holyrood parliament: “We need a budget for economic recovery and a budget for jobs. We are heading for a huge economic crisis and a cost of living crisis such as has not been seen since wartime.

“I welcome the renewed focus on the economy, the extension of business rates relief and the reduction in rates poundage. I look forward to having further discussions on the budget, because I note that the Scottish National Investment Bank’s money has decreased.

“At a time when we should be focusing on economic recovery, that is disappointing. I also look forward to having further discussion on support for local government, which falls short of what is required.”

Taxpayers will pay slightly less this year than last year, finance secretary Kate Forbes said, and the country’s tax band system will remain unchanged.

The starter, basic and higher bands of tax will all rise by inflation, with the top rate frozen at £150,000.

“This will see all Scottish taxpayers pay slightly less income tax next year than they will this year based on their current income,” she said.

Forbes also said there will not be a public sector pay freeze similar to that imposed by the UK Government.

Instead, there will be a three percent increase for public sector workers on salaries up to £25,000 with a £750 cap.

Those on higher salaries in the public sector will see salaries increase by one percent, capped at £800, although SNP controlled West Dunbartonshire Council slipped through a remarkable deal for eight newly promoted chief officials will receive pay increases of £6,000 a year.

Their pay and gold plated packages will range from £90,000 to £130,000 a year.

Councils will see an increase in funding, with discretionary funding doubling to £60m, and a further £200m to compensate councils for a loss of income due to the pandemic.

Forbes said the pandemic had “shaken our society and economy to their core”.

Describing Brexit as a “wrecking ball”, the Finance Secretary said: “Today’s Budget will help to bring much-needed support and stability, to ensure our economy recovers and we protect those who have been hit the hardest.

“Throughout these dark times, we have never given up hope.

“Hope for a better future, for a healthier, greener, fairer society. And now with large-scale vaccination, focused firstly on the most vulnerable, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

“This budget seeks to build on that hope and by focusing on how we continue to protect, recover, rebuild and renew our country it seeks to make that light at the end of the tunnel shine that bit brighter.”

Spending on Scotland’s health service will be more than £800m more than the core budget in the coming year.

A total of £145.3m has been allocated for alcohol and drugs, fulfilling First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s pledge of £50m per year for five years to tackle the drug deaths crisis.

Forbes also announced that mental health funding would exceed £1.1bn to cope with the effects of coronavirus.

But Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie insisted the funding for mental health services is not enough.

He said: “The mental health budget falls short of the funds it needs, especially following the massive impact on our mental health from the pandemic.

“We had called for £1.2bn and that was before the pandemic. This budget falls £100m short.”

Opposition MSPs also questioned whether sufficient cash is being allocated to Scotland’s local authorities and care workers.

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said councils have been “underfunded” for years, while Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton, said spending on local government “falls short of what is required”.

Labour also pressed the Scottish Government to increase pay for care workers to £15 a hour, with Baillie urging: “Surely they deserve more than the living wage, surely they finally deserve to be properly valued and recognised by society?”

Drew Duffy, the Scotland senior organiser for trade union GMB said the public sector pay announcement in the budget would be met with “fury among the lowest paid in Scotland’s public sector”.

He said: “Kate Forbes was among the many politicians applauding our frontline heroes, now she is saying ‘thank you’ with a rise that won’t amount to more than a tenner a week for most.

“There is no value here, and it’s an insulting response from the Scottish Government to the ongoing struggles of our key workers in this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie insisted the plans do not provide for the “green recovery” needed from the pandemic.

He said: “Even before Covid, Scotland was on track to miss targets on child poverty and climate emissions. This budget simply doesn’t address that, and refuses to consider progressive taxation.

“This is the year a new American president will come to the climate summit in Glasgow with ambitious plans to invest in a low-carbon future and create jobs. Scotland needs to at least match that level of ambition if we want to be taken seriously.”

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