MSP committee criticises Derek Mackay over draft budget

Derek Mackay has been criticised by a committee of MSPs over the scrutiny allowed for the budget. Photograph: Steven Scott TaylorDerek Mackay has been criticised by a committee of MSPs over the scrutiny allowed for the budget. Photograph: Steven Scott Taylor
Derek Mackay has been criticised by a committee of MSPs over the scrutiny allowed for the budget. Photograph: Steven Scott Taylor

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THE Scottish Government has been accused of going back on its promise to publish preliminary information about the impending Scottish budget, leading to a public row.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has been rebuked by an influential Holyrood committee over the “unacceptable” amount of time and information he has provided to allow MSPs to scrutinise the Scottish Budget.

The Finance Committee, convened by SNP MSP Bruce Crawford, said the decision to delay publication of the Draft Budget to December 12 - three weeks after the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement - would only leave MSPs two weeks to scrutinise the budget.

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Mr Crawford said the ongoing financial scrutiny carried out by Holyrood committees “should not be viewed as a replacement for scrutiny of the draft budget document”.

In a letter to Mr Mackay, Mr Crawford said: “It is essential that subject committees should normally have sufficient time to take evidence and consult with stakeholders once the document has been published.

“Given the proposed heavily truncated timetable the Finance Committee has sought to work with you in considering what level of information could reasonably be provided to support effective parliamentary scrutiny prior to the draft budget being published.

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“In particular, you informed the committee on September 7 that: ‘I am willing to produce as much scenario planning information as I can’.

“The committee clerks and your officials subsequently held discussions around the possibility of scenario planning.

“It is, therefore, unacceptable that you have now informed the committee that you are not prepared to publish any such scenario planning information in advance of the publication of the draft budget.”

The committee has decided to lodge a parliamentary motion calling on the Parliament to debate the timetable for the Scottish Government’s 2017-18 Draft Budget.

Mr Crawford said: “The publication of the Draft Budget 2017/18 in December should not be viewed as a precedent for future years.”

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Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “It’s essential parliament has sufficient time to scrutinise the budget.

“Under the SNP plans, this would have left just two weeks for the plans to be analysed, when usually there are two months for that.

“The SNP is now a minority government and can’t simply force through what it wants. Today, Derek Mackay is learning that very lesson.”

Scottish Labour business manager James Kelly said: “It would be completely unacceptable for the SNP to attempt to delay the budget scrutiny until December.

“In the meantime Derek Mackay has been unwilling to give MSPs any ball park numbers. Given how vital this budget will be that simply isn’t good enough.

“The SNP have form for trying dodge parliamentary scrutiny, they cannot repeat those tricks when it comes to the funding for Scotland’s public services.”

Green co-convener Patrick Harvie said: “This is the second year in a row that the Scottish Government has published its budget so late that parliamentary scrutiny becomes almost meaningless.

“It’s simply not an adequate way for Holyrood to operate, especially in a period of minority government.”