SNP spending plans will protect NHS - John Swinney

John Swinney, right, was speaking ahead of the Budget vote this week. Picture: Ian Rutherford

John Swinney, right, was speaking ahead of the Budget vote this week. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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The Scottish Government’s spending plans for the year ahead will protect public services such as the NHS and education, the Finance Secretary has said ahead of the Budget vote this week.

John Swinney said the proposals focus on “tackling inequality, investing in our economy and protecting and reforming our public services”.

MSPs will be asked to vote on the 2015/16 Budget on Wednesday.

It includes provisions for free school meals, £4.5 billion for health and education infrastructure and a £12 billion total health budget.

It also contains the first Scottish tax rates in over 300 years, with the new Land and Buildings Transaction Tax, which replaces stamp duty, and the Scottish Landfill Tax.

Mr Swinney said: “Our budget proposals will continue our strong commitment to frontline health spending, with extra funding in 2015/16 bringing the total annual health budget to more than £12 billion for the first time.

“This budget continues our actions to mitigate UK Government welfare cuts with £81 million of support and delivers on our commitments to expand childcare and to provide free school meals for all p1-p3 pupils.

“Protecting our public services was an issue right at the heart of the referendum debate and it is clear that people from all parts of Scotland and right across the political spectrum hold them dear. I believe our budget reflects this.”

The Government is expected to use its majority of one to pass the Budget, but it will also seek support from independent MSPs and opposition parties.

It has faced strong criticism from its opponents over its record in health and education.

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “There is an unrelenting pressure on our NHS and it is patients and staff who are being let down by the Scottish Government.”

Labour has called for a £100 million NHS frontline fund, more money for local government, a £10 million resilience fund in light of the oil crisis and the creation of a Scottish Office for Budget Responsibility to scrutinise government spending proposals.

Meanwhile, Mr Swinney will also call for all political parties to ask the UK Government “to ensure Smith recommendations are delivered as the Commission intended” in the new powers for Holyrood.

“The UK proposals on welfare do not allow us to vary Universal Credit without the permission of the UK Government,” he said.

“That means - under the current proposals - we will not have the independence to take action to abolish the Bedroom Tax. We ask for those clauses to be rewritten urgently.”

The UK Government has rejected claims of a “veto” on welfare powers.

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