HARDSHIP FUND: Most households will get £150 to help with rising bills

Three quarters of households in Scotland are to get £150 to help with the rising cost of living

SNP’s Kate Forbes; Labour’s Paul Sweeney and LibDem Alex Cole Hamilton.

All households in council tax bands A to D will receive a payment or discount, as will those in other bands who already qualify for reduced rates, as part of a £290m support package.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said 73% of Scottish households – around 1.85 million people – would receive the money.

But she admitted it was an “imperfect scheme” and did not go far enough to support Scots hit by rising energy bills.

“In terms of the challenges that we face right now, I think the measures that we have outlined will only go so far,” she said.

Opening the stage three debate of the Scottish Budget, Forbes estimated that the energy price cap rise of almost £700 “could move a further 211,000 households into fuel poverty, and around 235,000 households who were already fuel poor into extreme fuel poverty”.

The Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats all said they would vote against the budget, but it is expected to pass due to the SNP’s power-sharing arrangement with the Scottish Greens.

Announcing the financial support measures, Forbes said money will either be given as a direct payment by local authorities or used as credit towards council tax bills.

The finance secretary also announced an additional £10m for the Fuel Insecurity Fund “to help households at risk of self-disconnection, or self-rationing their energy use, due to unaffordable fuel costs”.

Explaining her decision, Forbes said: “This is clearly an imperfect scheme. It will reach some households who may not need this, but it is the only route we have to make sure we reach those for whom it will make a difference, quickly and simply.

“I know that the cost of living crisis is affecting households who are not in receipt of benefits, who are not claiming a council tax reduction. And they are facing hardship too.

“We must seek to do what we can to prevent those households and families on the edge of the poverty line from falling over it.”

Councils will be allowed to carry forward any underspends in the Discretionary Housing Payment and the Scottish Welfare Fund into the next financial year, Forbes said.

For businesses, Forbes said there will be an additional £16m for cultural events that have faced cancellations, £7.5m for Scottish tour operators, £3.5m for outbound travel agents, and £3m towards city centre recovery to improve footfall.

One-off grants worth a total of £6.5m will be made available for the childcare sector, including childminders.

But Forbes said, with just six weeks until the end of the financial year, that the final financial position for funding to be spent in Scotland “is yet to be formally and finally confirmed”.

The finance secretary said the position shifted last week, following the announcement of a £2bn relief package by the Chancellor, “not by increasing the expected consequentials but by decreasing the funding”.

‘Unholy alliance’

Scottish Tory finance spokeswoman Liz Smith criticised the budget, but said that given the power-sharing deal, its passage was a foregone conclusion.

“Because of the arithmetic of this parliament and the unholy alliance between the SNP and the Greens, this budget has been a fait accompli from day one, with very little engagement from the other political parties,” she said.

“It’s a budget that has failed to put economic recovery first and it’s failed to put forward the delivery of local services.

“The SNP, in my opinion, has failed to listen to business, it’s failed to listen to local government and it’s failed to understand where the public priorities lie. As such, we cannot support it.”

Labour MSP Paul Sweeney also said his party would not vote for the budget.

He said: “As a budget we think it’s timid, regressive, unambitious and doesn’t do nearly enough to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis, which is no longer looming in the distance but – as the cabinet secretary herself said – is staring us directly in the face.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The finance secretary has set the same elephant trap as her predecessors year after year.

“The SNP lay down punishing cuts to councils only at the last hour to offer a little extra cash.”

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