Scottish councils handed an extra £275 million to tackle Covid

Scotland's councils are to receive an additional £275 million to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, finance secretary Kate Forbes has announced.

There will also be an additional £40m to help make schools safe for the phased return of pupils over coming weeks, along with £60m to help pupils “catch up” on missed learning.

The SNP minister unveiled £1.1 billion of extra spending for public services after additional cash was made available to Holyrood from the UK Government. It effectively tops up the £40bn budget set out by Ms Forbes last month.

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The updated package set out in a Holyrood statement on Tuesday will also mean that retail, tourism, hospitality and aviation businesses will pay no rates during 2021/22.

Kate Forbes unveiled an extra £275 million for coucilsKate Forbes unveiled an extra £275 million for coucils
Kate Forbes unveiled an extra £275 million for coucils

The finance secretary had initially agreed to do this for three months in her budget statement, but the extra cash from Westminster means this can be extended throughout the year.

“This welcome additional consequential funding was confirmed to us yesterday and I wanted give early notice to Parliament and provide clarity to businesses," Ms Forbes told MSPs.

“We are still in the throes of a national emergency and it is important Parliament works together to respond. I will continue to work with all parties to help deliver a budget for the nation fit for these times.”

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, hailed the move to extend business rates relief for a year as "bold and significant”.

“The finance secretary has once again moved with commendable speed to back businesses which have been left reeling by the impact of coronavirus," he said.

Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, also welcomed the extension of business rates relief.

“This will provide much-needed relief to the retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation sectors who have been devastated by the effects of coronavirus restrictions,” she said.

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The £275m for councils comes on top of the £11.6bn local government settlement set out in the budget.

There will also bean additional £120m for mental health services, the finance secretary announced, with an extra £120m for affordable housing.

An extra £100m to support people on low incomes was also announced, as well as £60m for schools to help pupils catch-up on missed education and £60m for NHS recovery.

A further £45m for heat decarbonisation, energy efficiency and fuel poverty was also announced, along with £21.5m for Scottish Enterprise.

The SNP minority administration will need the support of at least one other party to be sure of the budget being passed next month.

But the Greens, the Nationalists’ usual budget partners, have warned that greater measures are needed in the budget to tackle poverty and invest in green jobs.

Co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “Greens will continue to engage constructively with the Scottish Government, but we are clear that there must be significant movement from the government on our key asks if they wish to strike a deal.”

Newspapers will also be covered by the year-long business rates relief.

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John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, said: "We are both delighted and also relieved that the Scottish Government has accepted the will of Parliament and recognised the massive challenges facing independent news publishing in Scotland and this will go a long way to ensuring that titles large and small can survive."

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