SNP brands UK budget date ‘disrespectful to devolution’

Derek Mackay faces a tight timetable to prepare his plans. Picture: Getty
Derek Mackay faces a tight timetable to prepare his plans. Picture: Getty
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Holyrood says the UK government has “given up on the Union altogether” after unveiling plans for a delayed 11 March Budget which has thrown Scottish spending plans into chaos.

The Scottish Government has even warned that the powers to collect income tax could be jeopardised in 2020-21, leaving a potential spending shortfall of £13 billion.

Chancellor Sajid Javid prompted a furious response from the SNP and other political parties at Holyrood over the 11 March date, being accused of treating Holyrood with “contempt and disrespect.”

The delay came about as a result of last year’s election, but leaves Scottish finance secretary Derek Mackay with less then three weeks to assess Scotland’s settlement and set a budget – the process normally takes three months.

The UK government has insisted that there is nothing to stop the Scottish Government publishing a budget setting out its £30 billion spending plans before the UK, with estimates on tax and welfare having been provided to the Scottish Government.

But Mr Mackay told MSPs yesterday: “It appears to me that the Tory government has given up on the Union altogether in not wanting to make our established processes work.

“Having wrecked their own processes, they’re trying to wreck the Scottish Parliament’s processes as well and we won’t let that happen.”

The date also means a major headaches for local councils in Scotland who have a legal duty to pass their budgets by March 11. Emergency legislation may now be required to have this suspended.

MSPs now face a race against time to agree Scotland’s different tax rates and pass a budget before the end of March.

The SNP’snormal budget partners, the Greens, are already threatening to block any spending plans which don’t include radical climate change proposals.

The Scottish Government would normally begin its three-stage budget process with publication of Mr Mackay’s spending plans in mid-December, but the UK election saw this delayed.

Although accepting a delay was inevitable, Mr Mackay questioned why it had to be as late as mid-March.

He added: “The UK government’s approach to the Scottish budget is completely unacceptable – the delay of over four months since their original planned date cannot be blamed on the general election, and suggests a disregard for devolution and a lack of fiscal responsibility.”

The UKBudget would normally be set in October or November, allowing good time for the devolved administration to assess their own budgets. Although a deal is likely to be struck, if MSPs cannot reach agreement, it would jeopardise HMRC’s ability to collect income tax in Scotland.

A spokesman for Mr Mackay added: “The single-biggest danger – however unlikely – is if the Parliament doesn’t pass a rate resolution in time then there is no authority to collect income tax, so that’s a £13bn risk.”

The UK government says it has already shared estimates of tax and welfare block grant adjustments based on latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) last month to aid Scottish Government budget preparations.

A Treasury spokesman said: “Nothing stops the Scottish Parliament from passing their budget before the UK Budget.

“At the Spending Round, we announced that the Scottish Government’s block grant will increase by £1.2bn next year.”

Scotland’s local government body Cosla attacked the decision.

Cosla resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor said: “By delaying the UK budget until mid-March, the UK government is putting thousands of essential public services at risk of going without funding.”