Scotland’s colleges are to receive an “additional” £61 million over the next two years, as part of the the SNP government’s Budget, which was agreed at Holyrood yesterday.
Giving details of the Scottish Government’s £30 billion spending plans for this year, finance secretary John Swinney promised colleges would receive an extra £10m in 2013-14 followed by a further £51m in 2014-15.
However, the announcement failed to convince his political opponents or student groups, who argued this year would still see a net fall for college budgets as the £10m injection was still short of a £34.6m cut previously announced for 2013-14.
Mr Swinney also announced an additional last-minute £38m for the housing budget, bringing funding in the sector to £859m.
Also contained in the Budget was £2m to bring empty town centre properties into residential use, an extra £10m for vital trunk road and bridge repairs, and £1m to double support for entrepreneurship.
His package of financial measures, which Mr Swinney described as a “budget for growth”, passed safely as a result of the SNP’s majority.
Mr Swinney said that the £61m extra for colleges over the next two years would see the total yearly budget rise to £522m. The money will come from “unallocated resource consequentials”, cash that comes to Scotland from the Treasury to reflect increased spending south of the Border.
The finance secretary said the money would ensure that colleges would deliver a high-quality education.
But last night, Robin Parker, the president of NUS Scotland, said: “Today’s decision by the Scottish Government is very disappointing for those students and people across Scotland who wrote over 50,000 e-mails to MSPs calling on the Scottish Government to reverse college cuts.
“While the efforts of students across Scotland has seen tens of millions put back into the budget, compared with what was originally proposed, we can’t accept a cut of £24.6m to colleges, on top of huge cuts over the past few years.”
In the chamber, Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown criticised the round of applause with which the Nationalists’ backbenches greeted Mr Swinney’s announcement on colleges.
Mr Brown said: “An announcement of a £10m increase to the college budget was made. There was a £34m cut – they have put £10m back.”
Mr Brown added: “I don’t think there will be any spontaneous rounds of applause outside the chamber for a £24m cut to colleges.”
In his response to the Budget, Labour’s finance spokesman Ken Macintosh said: “Yes, there have been a few announcements this afternoon but if John Swinney expects the country to be grateful for the fact he has not quite fully restored the cuts he made last year, then he has got another thing coming.”
Mr Swinney said the extra money for housing would be split, with £10m for “affordable” homes, £4m to adapt and improve homes, and £24m for green energy schemes.
He said the changes in the housing budget would be partly financed by an agreed reduction of loans to Scottish Water in 2013-14 of £35m.
Mr Swinney made the point that the Scottish Budget, which allocates money which comes to Scotland from Westminster, was being squeezed.
“We continue to face acute challenges to public spending in Scotland,” Mr Swinney said. “Over four years, our Budget is being cut by 8 per cent in real terms and, within that, our capital budget is being reduced by over 25 per cent. The resources available to me to address the issues raised by parliament are, therefore, limited.”
Following the vote on the Budget, which was passed by 68 to 56, Mr Swinney said: “Within the constraints of devolution, our Budget prioritises construction, skills, employment and a green economic stimulus.
“We have taken steps to mitigate the damage being done by Westminster welfare reforms and to make sure our public services are fit for the future.
“Through immediate infrastructure investment, we are providing a boost to Scotland’s construction sector and wider economy, and we are also maintaining the most supportive business environment in the UK.
“This is what we are able to do with the limited powers at our disposal.
“With the full fiscal and economic powers of independence, the Scottish Government could do even more to strengthen our economy and create jobs.”
Mr Swinney’s point was emphasised by his SNP colleague Bruce Crawford during the debate.
Mr Crawford called on
the Scottish Labour party to say where it would make cuts in Scotland’s budget.
“Would the cash from Labour’s finance cuts come from education, would it come from health, would it come from local government? “This parliament and the people of Scotland deserve to know where the Labour axe would fall to deliver the hard choices that [Scottish Labour leader] Johann Lamont says she wants to take,” Mr Crawford said.
“But, of course, they won’t tell us, because they are either too confused and they don’t understand the budgetary process, or more likely they are prepared to pay a shabby game of deceit with the Scottish people.”