CHIEF Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander has claimed that the Autumn Statement has handed the SNP Scottish Government the chance to invest in vital infrastructure and child care with the £300 million boost to Scottish funding.
In a briefing at Westminster, Mr Alexander also said that the statement had laid out a challenge to the Scottish Government on spending after its funds were increased by £300 million.
The Chief Secretary arguing they should use the extra cash for improving the A9 and paying for their child care proposals which they have refused to do unless Scotland becomes independent.
He said: “I think the [improvement of the A9] is probably the most important infrastructure project in Scotland and they’re in their seventh year in office and not a single piece of upgrading has been done on the A9 that wasn’t set out by Tavish Scott when he was transport minister.
“They’ve talked about it a lot, but so far nothing has happened. Their main policy at the moment is to put average speed cameras between Perth and Inverness and I’d like ‘average-speed Alex’ to speed up the dualling of the A9.”
Mr Alexander also joked that the first task of the new Higgs Centre for Scientific Innovation funded with £10 million from the UK government should be to look at the SNP’s claims on oil and gas revenues with independent Office of Budgetary Responsibility figures suggesting a £4 billion black hole in their projections.
He said: “I think there are so many black holes in the SNP’s financial plans for independence that this might be the first task for the new Higgs Institute at Edinburgh University to try and understand, given the financial plans for independence look increasingly like a work of science fiction, rather than based on any sort of facts.”
Mr Alexander also hailed the new City Deal for Glasgow which could see the UK Government hand over control of back to work welfare as well as borrowing powers to the city council and its partners.
He called on the Scottish Government to follow suit and devolve powers to Glasgow and suggested that other cities such as Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen could also get similar deals.
“Their [Glasgow City Council’s] ambition, which I share, is to strengthen the economy to get people back to work.
“I hope very much that the Scottish Government will play a very positive role in constructing a city deal for Glasgow as well. To get a city deal that would work it would need the Scottish Government’s involvement as well.”
Mr Alexander also denied suggestions that £10 million for Shetland in Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael’s constituency was “pork barrel politics.”
He said: “I think that all the projects I have supported in gov are good value for money, good use of constrained public funds. But look if my opponents want to attack me for doing too much for the Highlands and Isles, they can say that but I’m sure I’ll throw it back at them in due course.”
On pensions he said that changes had to be made because of rising life expectancy and rejected the idea put forward by SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that different areas should have different retirement ages because of different average life expectancy rates.
He said: “It is also right that the health care system has to address health inequalities in our society but it can’t be the job of the pension system to take action to tackle health inequalities. That’s the job of the health service and other areas of our public life.”
He admitted that some jobs people would not be able to work until the late 60s or 70s but suggested that people take out private pensions or change job.
He said: “Increasingly people are doing different jobs as they work through their working lives. So I wouldn’t expect somebody to be a bricklayer until they are 70 if they are unable to do that.”=
“All the work forces make a case that there are particular reasons why they should be differently but you do need a common basis to work from in order for the system to be fair to everybody.”
He added: “There are also occupational pension schemes. We are working hard to extend people’s access to occupational pension schemes.”