Derek Mackay: Decisions are made by those who show up
That is why I take my responsibilities as Scotland’s Finance and Economy Secretary extremely seriously. I do not, and will not, play games with our nation’s finances.
Amid the ongoing uncertainty caused by Brexit, there has never been more need for MSPs, of all parties, to act responsibly and not add to that uncertainty. That is what people the length and breadth of Scotland expect.
MSPs and ministers are elected to deliver workable solutions to meet the challenges of the day, not create unnecessary disputes or manufacture crises.
In contrast to the shambles of the UK government and Brexit, the Scottish Government put forward a budget in December that delivers for Scotland. Health services, the economy and public services will benefit from more than £2bn of additional spend as a result of the decisions I took.
As Finance Secretary in a minority government, I have repeatedly and consistently articulated my willingness to work together with all MSPs in Holyrood in order to reach an agreement around the Scottish Government’s spending plans.
As I said when I introduced the Scottish Budget in December, my overarching aim was to provide stability, sustainability and stimulus for Scotland in order to protect our public services and economy as much as possible from the impact of continued austerity and Brexit uncertainty.
I sought to engage constructively with all parties throughout the budget negotiations.
During those negotiations, and in the interests of stability, I was not prepared to change income tax rates or business rates, but I was willing to compromise over spending plans if those asking for more money and investment explained where they would make equivalent reductions in other areas of public spending.
The Scottish Greens were the only opposition party who engaged in serious budget negotiations.
The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives effectively ruled themselves out of discussions. They were more interested in arguments about the constitution than debates about public spending. And the Labour Party couldn’t even agree a budget position among themselves, let alone with anyone else.
Due to the dereliction of duty by other parties and their failure to negotiate, I was faced with a choice between allowing the budget to fall or making concessions with the Greens in order to secure agreement for a £42bn package of investment.
And let me be clear: failure to pass the budget at Stage One would have jeopardised the Scottish Government’s ability to raise the necessary revenues to fund our essential public services.
That would be reckless in the extreme and would have harmed our hospitals, schools, public sector workers and our economic stability.
I was not prepared to allow that to happen.
The agreement the Scottish Government reached with the Green Party was not just the best deal on the table, it was the only workable deal available.
For negotiations to be a success there needs to be compromise on both sides. We have made concessions to the Scottish Greens, while they have made clear there are aspects of the budget they do not necessarily agree with, but there has been enough movement to secure their support.
That is how grown-up politics works.
As part of the agreement, the Scottish Government will undertake a formal consultation on the principles of a locally determined visitor levy during 2019, before introducing legislation that would permit local authorities to adopt such a policy.
We also agreed to support a Green amendment to the Transport (Scotland) Bill to provide the power to local authorities to introduce a Workplace Parking Levy, as already allowed in England, with support being contingent on the exclusion of hospitals and NHS properties.
Once these powers are in place it will be for local government to determine if they should be used. The necessary legislation will require parliament’s careful consideration and approval. No local authority will therefore be able to levy them this year.
After removing the health uplift, the Scottish Government block grant will be lower in 2019-20 in real terms compared with last year. Despite this cut, we have continued to ensure local government receive a fair funding settlement. Including the measures I announced during Stage One of the Budget Bill, local authorities will receive a funding package of £11.2bn this year to deliver essential public services – a real terms increase of £298.9 million.
Councils also have the flexibility to increase council tax by up to 3 per cent in real terms. Taken together, this will mean local authorities have access to an additional £621m in 2019-20.
This package of local government reforms, alongside the £11.2bn settlement, will increase the powers of local government but the overall budget will deliver so much more for Scots the length and breadth of the country.
Under this government, 55 per cent of Scottish taxpayers will continue to pay less than they would if they lived elsewhere in the UK. We will invest £42bn in Scotland’s public services and economy.
That means £730m more in 2019-20 for health and care services. For education it equates to £180m more to raise attainment, including £120m for head teachers to spend through the Pupil Equity Fund to close the attainment gap.
Our pay policy will provide a 3 per cent pay uplift for public sector workers earning up to £36,500.
There is almost £500m to expand funded early learning and childcare, supporting the recruitment and training of staff and investment in building, refurbishment and extension of around 750 nurseries and family centres.
And if you’re a small business owner, this budget provides the most generous package of business rates reliefs in the UK, alongside a £50m Town Centre Fund to support the future of our high streets.
The Scottish Government’s budget is one that provides stability, sustainability and stimulus.
It is a budget that delivers for the Scotland of today and invests for the Scotland of tomorrow.
Derek Mackay is a Scottish National Party politician serving as Finance Secretary of Scotland since 2016