Willie Rennie: Budget missed opportunity to invest in education

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Writing for The Scotsman, The Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader, Willie Rennie shares his views on the 2017 Scottish budget.

The Budget recites a long list of the problems and crises facing Scotland. But it doesn’t take sufficient substantive action on any of them.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

That means the budget is a missed opportunity.

It does not do enough to meet the long term needs in the economy. It should have done that by investing in people through education and mental health.

We’ll need to scrutinise the tax proposals but the government seem to have introduced a modest tax increase. That’s an approach that we advocated at the election and the SNP vehemently opposed. We were honest with the voters, the SNP were not.

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This is a serious time. The Office of Budget Responsibility has downgraded the prospects for the UK economy, pinning the blame on the uncertainty of the Conservative Brexit policy.

This is a moment to take serious steps to change the Scottish economy so it can have a long term future of high-skills and high wages.

So I want to see investment to give children the best possible start in education, which all the worldwide research says is before the age of three. We need to get behind teachers and pupils with investment to raise attainment in classrooms.

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Colleges should be given the resources to increase the number of part-time courses they offer to older workers seeking to retrain or women wanting to re-enter the workplace now the Scottish Government has abandoned its objections to part-time courses. Yet the funding has not been made available to reverse the cuts to 150,000 college places.

Mental ill health still holds too many people back. It hits businesses and limits life chances. The Scottish Government should get behind a plan to improve mental health.

The issue that could burn a hole in this Budget is the pay cap on public sector workers.

People will welcome the lifting of the cap. Public service pay has fallen dramatically behind inflation. But the SNP’s change of heart on pay is unfunded. It looks like local authorities will have to meet the costs of the change in policy in full from their budgets. Anyone who works in local government or relies on council services will worry about what this will mean for them given the cuts that will have to be made elsewhere to balance the books.

And I am still intent on pursuing ministers to include fair funding for northern isles’ ferries, which is the established will of parliament but disregarded by the SNP.

This budget failed to address the big issues in a meaningful way and it failed on honesty as it introduces a tax rise voters were promised would never come.