Friday, 19 February 2010

Protection for the frontline

THE third budget of the minority SNP Government was passed two weeks ago despite a range of parties' demands and gains.

Nevertheless, while Tories, Greens and the Independents voted with the SNP, the Lib Dems abstained and Labour voted against. That is despite real gains for the wishes of each party's negotiators.

The Post Office Diversification Fund, additional support for insulation schemes and the introduction of a boiler scrappage scheme, in particular, all had Labour support.

Yet Labour voted against all of the items in this budget that also included funding for student parents and more help for students.

The SNP's priorities won majority backing and include funding for the council tax freeze and also maintaining or increasing local NHS budgets. This year's SNP budget gives precedence to frontline services and economic recovery, including an increase in the health budget by 2.7 per cent to over £8.5 billion and an increase in the frontline education budget too.

Increased investment of £10 million in offshore and onshore renewables boosts Scotland's green growth industry. Key commitments in rural affairs and justice have been protected and accelerating EU cash for rural development will ensure continued investment in rural industries.

Funding for the council tax freeze puts an average £150 in householders' pockets. Funding that helps to lower prescription charges progresses and continuation of the Small Business Bonus Scheme sees the thresholds increased.

At this point in the political cycle, the SNP Government's key achievements show recorded crime at its lowest for 25 years and police numbers at their highest ever.

Record numbers of new socially-rented homes are being constructed, despite the recession.

Council tax has been frozen for three years, with funding committed until 2012. Prescription charges are on their way out by 2011. Class sizes are at their lowest ever at around 23, if not at the desired 18 per classroom in primary years one to three.

The most comprehensive scheme of apprenticeship opportunities anywhere in the UK has been agreed, with incentives for employers to take on and retain apprentices which are vital for manufacturing and many other industries. An investment of a record £14bn over this parliament in Scottish infrastructure allows capital programmes to continue to save and create jobs, such as those in the massive works of Scottish Water and for the building of schools and hospitals.


I NEED to correct the misrepresentation in the recent debate which rejected the removal of statutory notices from local papers, such as the one you are reading.

The origin of the idea came from COSLA on behalf of all the local councils of Scotland, no matter which combination of parties form their ruling groups.

The Scottish Government was pressed by the councils to consult on this move in order to save councils another tranche of cash, and because there is a historic concordat between Scottish and local government this took place.

I find the posturing of opposition MSPs such as Jamie Stone and David Stewart less than credible. While they tried to make political capital at the expense of the SNP Government, their councillor colleagues in Highland and around the country, of a Labour, Lib Dem or Tory persuasion, were the real instigators.

I'm sure the SNP Government will not wish to jeopardise the excellent relations we have with local papers such as the Ross-shire Journal. Nor would I. Watch this space once the consultation is completed.

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