Scottish Budget: Kate Forbes' only big idea was to make cash-starved councils the whipping boys – Brian Wilson

With a £10 billion increase in Scotland’s block grant, one might expected a little creativity in how the money is spent to bring real change where it is needed most.

Kate Forbes' Scottish Budget let down local authorities which are responsible for many key services (Picture: Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/pool/PA)
Kate Forbes' Scottish Budget let down local authorities which are responsible for many key services (Picture: Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/pool/PA)

One new twist is to give councils freedom to raise council tax. There will be no freeze, so no money to compensate for one, none of which Finance Secretary Kate Forbes was brave enough to mention in her speech to MSPs. Yet it is probably the single most important change in her Budget.

It means cash-starved councils are left with a choice between the opprobrium of raising taxes when so many families are struggling or else more cuts to services the same people need. This is not some kind of new, honest politics, but old-fashioned Tory buck-passing to councils as whipping boys.

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Another area in which Ms Forbes’ Budget failed to recognise reality is her treatment of the retail and hospitality sectors, which are on their knees. The rates relief offered is for a shorter period and at a lower rate than in the rest of the UK. Why?

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It is only necessary to walk along any high street in Scotland to see what a mess these sectors are in – huge numbers of businesses have closed down never to re-open while many more are on the brink. They need help, not sleight of hand.

The state of our town centres should be a major Scottish government priority. They provide jobs and shape the environment in which people live. Can nothing creative emerge from Holyrood to meet that challenge?

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