High-earners in public sector could see pay cuts – John Swinney

FINANCE secretary John Swinney will consider cutting the pay of high earners in the public sector in a bid to get his budget passed in the Scottish Parliament.

Support for the proposal was strongly hinted at yesterday to get backing from the Liberal Democrats, who have called for a 5 per cent cut in the payroll of public-sector workers earning 80,000 or more.

Mr Swinney also confirmed he will, at the very least, freeze the pay of civil servants.

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Liberal Democrat finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis said cutting the total value of the payroll for top earners by 5 per cent would mean up to 651 million could be freed up, which could prevent many cuts.

Mr Swinney also appeared to throw an olive branch to the Greens, whose two MSPs were crucial in bringing his first attempt at a budget down last year.

He promised 10m for a new fund to support marine renewables and also implied he would try to increase funding for insulation for homes and make it easier for people to obtain.

The offers came during the first reading of the budget, which was passed by 64 votes to 46, with only Labour opposing it and the Lib Dems and Greens abstaining.

Mr Swinney's tactics appear to be aimed at isolating Labour as the only party set to vote against the budget when it comes to the third and final reading in a fortnight.

Labour has demanded the reinstatement of the 60m Glasgow Airport Rail Link (Garl) as the minimum for their support, but this was rejected as unaffordable by Mr Swinney.

This was despite former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander claiming to have found 1.2 billion of slippage in capital projects, which gives the finance secretary the flexibility to save Garl.

Labour's finance spokesman Andy Kerr also attacked claims made by Mr Swinney and the SNP that he is having to deal with a "real-terms cut" for the 2010-11 budget. Mr Kerr said that, in reality, it was up by almost 1bn.

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He also accused Mr Swinney of "squandering" 1.5bn of reserves. The former finance minister said the spending plans deliver "vanity projects" such as the independence referendum and the Scottish Futures Trust company.

The Conservatives backed the budget but demanded information about all items costing 25,000 or more should be made easily available to the public.

Tory finance spokesman Derek Brownlee said the budget was taking place "under the shadow of Labour's recession". He warned: "Whoever wins the election, spending on devolved services in Scotland will have to fall."

And last night, Tory leader Annabel Goldie unveiled plans for an Irish-style review board in Scotland to start driving through radical savings north of the Border. She also wants local walk-in health centres to be tested as a further demand for support of the budget.

After the vote, Mr Swinney said:

"It is incumbent on all of us across the parliament to to deliver a budget in the best interests of the whole of Scotland."