Last week the Scottish Government reached an agreement which will ensure the passage of our 2020/21 budget through parliament.
In these challenging and uncertain times, it has never been more important for a budget to deliver confidence in and stability for our economy, and strong investment in our public services.
Our budget delivers all of that and more.
It will make significant progress towards increasing wellbeing, tackling climate change, reducing child poverty, and driving sustainable and inclusive economic growth. It will also protect our vital public services.
Our ambition to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2045 sits at the heart of our budget, with £1.8 billion of investment in low carbon infrastructure to will help reduce emissions and make the transition to a net zero economy in a fair and just way,
We are increasing support for sustainable travel to help lower reliance on using cars with investment of £270 million in rail services.
And, significantly, the budget includes an additional £15 million which will support the extension of concessionary bus travel to everyone aged 18 and under from January 2021.
This is an ambitious policy which will require due diligence and preparatory work. However, there is no doubt that it will be truly transformational for young people. It will save them and their families money whilst also breaking down barriers to accessing work, education and social opportunities. And it will be a significant contribution to our efforts to tackle climate change.
And as we work through the practicalities of delivering this ambitious new policy, we will collaborate with young people across Scotland to ensure that it meets their needs and aspirations.
The budget also provides much needed support for families, including £645 million to almost double state funded early years education and childcare from August, and £21 million for the new Scottish Child Payment.
The new Scottish Child Payment payment has been described as a ‘game-changer’ by the Child Poverty Action Group and for good reason. Worth £10 a week per child to low-income families, initially those with a child under six, it will lift 30,000 children out of poverty when it is fully rolled out.
It is part of our fundamental commitment to make a real difference to lives through a new social security system built on dignity and respect and backed by £3 billion of new benefit spend.
Our approach to social security is a clear demonstration of the value the Scottish Government places on wellbeing, and so too is our investment in health and the NHS. The budget includes a record investment of £15 billion in health and care services – an increase of more than £1 billion. Crucially we are committing £117 million towards improving mental health services in communities throughout Scotland.
And, I’m pleased that the budget helps to tackle another public health issue not specific to Glasgow, but one which is of increasing concern to communities across the country.
It includes an increase in direct investment of up to £20 million by the Scottish Government in drug services to help reduce the harms and deaths caused by drug use.
The increased funding will help deliver the recommendations of the Drug Deaths Taskforce, and provide investment for mental health support. It will also allow wider consideration of additional NHS-funded rehabilitation beds as part of our overall approach to tackling drugs.
I’m pleased that after collaborative discussions with COSLA and other parties including the Greens, – who worked with us to reach agreement on key priorities – the budget also includes £589 million of increased funding to support local government in the delivery of core local services.
Glasgow City Council, which already benefits from over £900m for frontline council services, will now receive an extra £10.6 million next year.
Our income tax system will remain progressive, protecting those on lower incomes and asking those who earn more to contribute slightly more to help support public services.
Overall, 56% of Scottish income tax payers will pay less income tax in 2020-21 than they would if they lived elsewhere in the UK.
The Scottish budget has been developed under difficult circumstances after the UK Government took the decision to delay theirs until 11 March. It has meant the Scottish Government having to set a budget without clarity on how we will be affected by UK government spending decisions. And that uncertainty comes on top of the impact of the decade of austerity imposed by Westminster.
However, the Scottish Government’s decision to go ahead with our budget – making firm and principled decisions in the interests of our economy and public services – demonstrates our commitment to offering certainty and stability for people and organisations in Scotland. And I’m pleased it has been designed collaboratively with other parties in the parliament and, in particular, that it has secured the support of the Greens.
The Scottish budget is without a doubt progressive and focused on what matters for Scotland. It will support the delivery of ambitious policies which will improve the lives people across Scotland now and help us safeguard the planet for the generations to come.