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Scottish budget announced early: Record NHS funding and focus on economic recovery

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The Scottish Government released budget proposals as Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes sets out government priorities for the next year, with a clear focus on NHS funding and economic stimulation and recovery

The Scottish Budget has been announced, setting out the Scottish Government’s proposed spending and tax plans for 2021 to 2022, as presented to the Scottish Parliament.

Supporting the safe and sustainable recovery of the NHS is at the forefront of the Scottish government’s proposals, with record funding in excess of £16 billion suggested in the Budget.

An increase of over £800 million in core Health and Sport funding will allow investment of £11.9 billion in Health Boards, £1.9 billion for primary care, and spending in excess of £1.1 billion for mental health services.

A further £1 billion has been pledged to assist with drug and alcohol related deaths and to improve social care, with an estimated £883 million going towards care services alone.

In a foreword on the Scottish Government’s website, Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes addressed the impact that COVID has had on Scotland over the last year, and advised that there is a clear necessity to approach things differently in this years budget:

“The publication of Scottish Budget 2021-22 comes almost one year on from the first case of COVID-19 being notified in Scotland. We have, tragically, lost many lives.

“Since then, our society, economy and way of life have undergone significant change – even now, that process of change continues, as we deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic during a severe second wave and face the challenge of new variants.

“The exceptional circumstances in which the Scottish Government is bringing forward this Budget demand an exceptional response.

“The Budget delivers continued, urgent measures to control the virus and protect our economy and people, while supporting the roll-out of the vaccine as quickly and as safely as possible.

“The experience of the last year, however, has also laid bare the need to do things differently. This is a Budget to provide help in the immediate term, but also to rebuild a fairer, stronger, and greener economy.”

Proposals for economic recovery intertwine with job creation efforts and the delivery of green policies with an aim to decarbonise Scotland and end its contributions towards climate change by 2045.

An Investment of £2 billion additional funding to decarbonise the way we live, travel, and heat our buildings, and to support woodland creation – supporting new, green Scottish industries, creating thousands of low carbon jobs, has been proposed.

In keeping with the decarbonisation plans, the government has pledged to keep delivering a clean, efficient, and connected transport network, with investment of £3.2 billion.

Maintaining record high commitment of £100.5 million for active travel, and £15 million to deliver a concessionary travel scheme for under-19s.

The Budget aims to support the economy and protect jobs through NDR measures worth almost £1 billion, extending current relief for the most affected sectors and reducing the poundage for all businesses.

The Scottish government does not have the financial capacity to provide national furlough, so this is an attempt at protecting jobs without the ability to continue furlough outwith the UK government’s proposals.

The Budget has also pledged £1.1 billion to drive forward the national mission for jobs, and will attempt to equip the future workforce with the skills they need, including an additional £125 million of investment targeted at employment support, including the National Transition Training Fund and Young Person’s Guarantee, alongside £230.9 million for Skills Development Scotland.

As industries increasingly move online and as new digital skills become essential for employment, the Scottish Government is attempting to focus on retraining and skills development.

With regards to education, the Scottish government has pledged to invest £2.7 billion in education and skills.

Alongside significant funding delivered through the local government settlement – including £125 million to help close the attainment gap, and £1.9 billion for Scotland’s universities and colleges.

Whether this will be enough to dispel criticism of poor funding at especially college level education remains unknown. Many colleges in particular have had mergers of varying success, and complain of a lack of funding- prominently alongside local councils.

However, the Budget outlines a proposal to protect local services by guaranteeing £11.6 billion for local government i.e. councils.

Including £90 million to deliver a national council tax freeze and £567 million to deliver their commitment to 1,140 hours funded early learning and childcare by August 2021.

The pandemic has emphasised the situation regarding rent for many universities and college students.

With unfair rent rates and reduced services at accommodations leading to mass student movements across the whole of the UK.

The Budget is generally announced in Scotland after the UK budget has been determined, as the direction of the UK budget informs devolved governments of the financial situation they will have to work with- that is to say, how much cash they will receive from the central UK government.

However with Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak yet to deliver a budget that was expected last autumn and now postponed until the 3rd of March, the Scottish government can’t wait that long.

The Budget proposals put forward today have involved a lot of guesswork, with MSP’s anticipating, or hoping, that Ministers will deliver funding in the same fashion as previous years.

For a full outline of the Scottish Governments Budget 2021/2022, click here.

Featured Image Credit: STV News

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