Cost-of-living crisis: Scottish Government cuts to be finalised as date announced for UK mini-budget
Further cuts within the Scottish Government’s budget are set to be finalised over the coming fortnight, with the UK Government set to announce details of its ‘mini-budget’ next Friday.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to outline a range of policies, including tax cuts promised by Prime Minister Liz Truss during the Tory leadership campaign, details of the energy price cap, and a move to end the cap on banker’s bonuses.
Nicola Sturgeon pledged the Scottish Government’s own emergency budget within two weeks of a ‘fiscal event’ in Westminster.
This could see Deputy First Minister and interim finance secretary, John Swinney, forced to set out wide-ranging cuts to services on the eve of the SNP conference.
Mr Swinney outlined the first stage of cuts in Holyrood last week, but there is still at least £200 million of savings to be found to close the £700m budgetary hole caused by higher-than-planned pay deals for public sector workers.
SNP members are set to arrive in Aberdeen on October 8, with the conference to focus on the tough budgetary options available to the Scottish Government over the coming parliamentary session.
The conference will also end the day before the start of the Supreme Court hearings around the legality of Holyrood passing a referendum bill, allowing for the Parliament to legislate for an independence referendum.
The much-anticipated mini-budget from Mr Kwarteng will set out details of help for households and businesses amid the cost-of-living crisis.
It could also outline plans to reverse the rise in national insurance contributions, which was introduced by former prime minister Boris Johnson.
MPs are expected to sit in the Commons on Thursday, before being asked to sit a day longer ahead of their recess conference break, to allow Mr Kwarteng to set out his mini-budget.
It comes as confusion reigns over the future of funding for a youth music programme after it was ‘paused’ by ministers ahead of the Scottish Government’s cost-of-living emergency budget review.
The £9m Youth Music Initiative, established in 2003 and funded by Creative Scotland, funds musical activities in schools and professional development for young people who are looking to start a career in the music industry.
Culture minister Neil Gray initially confirmed a “brief pause in the distribution” of funding, but later claimed the funding was “secure”.
Mr Gray said: “While there is a brief pause in the distribution of funding while the cost-of-living emergency budget review is completed, the funding for Creative Scotland’s Youth Music Initiative is secure and will not be reduced.
“The Scottish Government recognises the important role this programme plays in nurturing the talents of children and young people across the country.”
It is not clear how many musicians and teachers are impacted by the ‘pause’ in funding. However, some tutors have been told to search for other work for the period they would otherwise have been working on Youth Music Initiative activities and services.
Councils were told by the Government that due to the emergency budget review, all Government portfolios have been asked to “identify remaining non-contracted spend” and to “defer issuing contracts indefinitely”.
In a letter to music tutors sent earlier this week from one activities provider, it is detailed Creative Scotland are yet to have made some funding awards.
This led to any planned programmes which were yet to be confirmed as funded by Creative Scotland being cancelled.
Projects span across all local authorities and provide around 1,200 jobs, with the programme having around 200,000 participants in total, and focusing on areas where individuals have little or no access to music making activities.
A separate £12m was paid to local councils to remove music tuition charges for pupils as part of the 2022/23 Scottish budget. This is unaffected by the pause in Youth Music Initiative funding.
Former Scottish Labour first minister Jack McConnell accused the Scottish Government of “cultural and social vandalism”.
On Twitter, the peer said: “Announcing this now is deliberate – an attempt to cover up the news of this disgraceful decision.
"And earlier this week young musicians played at Holyrood for the late Queen and the new King a piece composed by the guy who helped me set up free tuition for all 20 years ago.”
John Wallace, former principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and convenor of the Government’s Music Education Partnership Group, said cutting Youth Music Initiative’s funding would be “political suicide”.
He said: “It would be political suicide for any party to cut YMI funding, which is targeted especially to the children who need it most.
"To cut it would make a nonsense of all the pious utterances we have heard from politicians lips about equity.
"Jack McConnell’s tweet yesterday says it all – to do it at a time like this, when our very own dear Queen Elizabeth II has been heard to say ‘every child should lean a musical instrument’. It’s just not going to happen.
"YMI funding cannot be cut. All we musicians would just march on Holyrood and not stop playing till they gave in.”
However, the Government has insisted the funding is “secure”, with Mr Gray stating the delivery of the programme should “start, or restart, with minimal disruptions”.Outlining the first £500m of cuts and savings to the Scottish Parliament last week, Mr Swinney had said “difficult choices” had to be made to balance the books.
Pay deals with teachers and health and social care workers are also yet to be agreed, potentially putting more pressure on the Government’s budget.
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