AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes is getting her excuses in early ahead of next week’s Scottish Budget and is already preparing to blame the Westminster government for holding back Scotland and ruining its economy.
She’s been telling The Scotsman that her planning for the statement on 28 January has been made “significantly more difficult” as a result of having to set out her spending plans more than a month before Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers the UK Budget. It means she is being “forced” to publish spending plans for 2021/22 when she does not know what half of her own budget – through the block grant from Westminster – will amount to.
Really? Forced? It was Ms Forbes and her Scottish ministers who set the date of the Scottish Budget, not the Chancellor. His statement will be delivered on 3 March, providing Ms Forbes with a clear month to follow up before the end of the tax year. If Mr Sunak was able to change the date of his Budget, then so could Ms Forbes.
But why let a good chance to kick the Tories go to waste when there is an election to be won?
Ms Forbes is warming us up for an onslaught of Westminster attacks by warning that Covid-related support for retail, hospitality and leisure may be scaled back. Yes, get ready to blame the Tories when more pubs and restaurants close for good, rather than acknowledge that an independent Scotland would struggle to match the funds being provided by Westminster through borrowing because of its weak credit rating that would force taxes to rise or deep cuts to be imposed on public services.
In an article in the paper she elaborates on how her task in delivering this year’s finances will be hampered by a lack of information from London, refusing to admit that this is a self-inflicted wound that could have been avoided.
“Unfortunately, our budget planning is made significantly more difficult by the fiscal arrangements the devolved nations currently operate within,” she opines.
‘The article reads like an apology to teacher because the big boys stole her homework’
“Postponement of the UK Budget until March means I have only half the financial information that would normally be available, with details of future tax, the final block grant adjustment and any spending that may generate consequential payments for Scotland unavailable to me.
“Without confirmation of the UK Government’s plans for 2021/22, and with severely limiting restrictions on borrowing, I simply do not have the resources to continue this scale of relief in my forthcoming budget.”
Poor thing. The article reads like an apology to teacher because the big boys stole her homework. And she gave such a rousing and confident performance last year when called upon at the last minute to step in for the disgraced Derek Mackay.
Now all we’re getting from the Finance Secretary is a stream of badly-planned grant schemes such as Digital Boost, which caused fury among SMEs that applied for it, and the taxi grant which disqualified many of the drivers who need it most until a last minute u-turn to save face.
And why is postponing the Budget until March such an issue? Budgets were traditionally held in March before Philip Hammond chose to move them to November. This is just another manufactured grievance from the Holyrood government.
While spending may be reduced in Ms Forbes’ Budget, there will be no let up in the waffle around creating a “fairer, greener and more globally competitive Scotland”. This from a government that couldn’t find £30m to support a fairer, greener and more competitive wind energy company in Methil. Ministers still have a lot of explaining to do around the collapse of BiFab.
No worries, the pledges to invest in projects that are “sustainable” (let’s see how many times that word is used) will continue, with the Scottish Government promising to unveil a £24 billion Infrastructure Investment Plan over the next five years.
I wonder if that will include the publicly-owned energy company, promising low prices for consumers which Nicola Sturgeon announced at the SNP’s 2017 annual conference?
There has been no news on that. Quietly dropped? It must be Westminster’s fault.