Tories send ‘red lines’ to Forbes over tax differences between Scotland and UK

The Scottish Conservative party has written to new Finance Secretary Kate Forbes to warn that it will not accept any further divergence of taxation between Scotland and the UK.

Finance Minister Kate Forbes said she was open to doing a budget deal with the Conservatives: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Finance Minister Kate Forbes said she was open to doing a budget deal with the Conservatives: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Shadow finance secretary Donald Cameron contacted Forbes, who took over the position after the sudden resignation of Derek Mackay earlier this month, to set out the party’s taxation “red lines”.

He told her that if the UK government makes changes to ease the tax burden on workers south of the Border, it wanted a commitment from the Scottish Government that it will do the same for those in Scotland.

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The letter also stated that the party wanted a minimum additional allocation of £95 million for councils, a minimum of £13m more for Police Scotland and £15.4m for drug rehabilitation beds – totalling around 0.3 per cent of the total Scottish budget.

Forbes delivered the Scottish budget two weeks ago with just hours’ notice after McKay stepped down amid allegations that he had sent inappropriate messages to a 16-year-old boy. She has since been appointed as Finance Secretary.

The budget must now be approved by the Scottish Parliament and is due to be passed by 5 March. Former finance secretary Mackay made the decision to go ahead with Scotland’s tax and spending plans after ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid delayed the UK budget. That is now due to be delivered on 11 March.

In a TV interview last week, Forbes said she was open to doing a budget deal with the Conservatives – if they were willing to compromise on proposals she branded “arithmetically impossible”.

Cameron said: “These are our red lines, which the SNP must not cross if it wants us to continue discussions around this year’s budget process. We don’t think these are unreasonable or unaffordable demands – with the right choices they could be funded now.

“Indeed, it’s what many of the organisations involved say they need simply to keep going. We are willing to continue talks and would urge the SNP government to look again at our proposals.”

He added: “The people of Scotland do not want to see the government going into business with an increasingly extreme and damaging Green Party.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our budget delivers for vital public services, helps us meet our world-leading ambition of tackling the climate emergency and tackles the root causes of poverty. We are prioritising actions that have the greatest impact on improving lives across Scotland now.

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“Not only do our proposals provide a fair funding settlement for councils across Scotland, they also maintain our fairer tax system and deliver a record investment in health and care.”

He added: “Our spending plans will also support low-income households which are being hit the hardest by the UK government’s benefit cuts. Based on previous estimates, we expect to spend at least £1.4 billion to mitigate the worst effects of these cuts and tackle child poverty head on. We urge Parliament to work constructively towards having a new Scottish budget agreed and in place before 1 April, 2020.”