Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment & Sustainable Growth, John Swinney, made his Ministerial Statement on the Scottish Government’s Spending Review and Draft Budget for 2012 -13 and didn’t miss any opportunity to criticise the restrictions placed on Scottish spending by Westminster.
In his first budget speech since the SNP’s election win earlier this year, Swinney outlined that Scotland needed to prioritise capital spending, protect public sector employment and support household incomes. He confirmed that Scots could expect a five-year council tax freeze, whilst public sector workers’ pay would also remain frozen – including a freeze on Ministers’ own salaries.
Lighting up and turning to the bottle won’t help people to thaw out either, with large retailers selling tobacco and alcohol products now facing a hefty public health levy as part of the government’s preventative spending measures.
Eager to get Scotland back on track, Swinney is also looking to invest in Scotland’s railways, and prioritise major projects such as the Forth Crossing, improving the M8 and the new Royal Hospital for Sick Children. There will also be four Enterprise Areas in Scotland, including sites with a particular focus on low carbon manufacturing opportunities. Legislation will also be introduced to support urban regeneration and provide incentives to bring empty shops and homes back into use.
Commitment to delivering jobs and green energy was also high on the agenda yesterday, with Swinney outlining plans to tackle fuel poverty, energy inefficiency and develop the low carbon economy.
The Government is also going to maintain pressure on the UK Government and banks to ensure that lending targets are met and that viable businesses have appropriate access to affordable finance, whilst addressing the demand for risk capital by companies with the greatest opportunity for growth and exports.
On a positive yet cautionary note, Swinney commented that although the recession in Scotland has been “shallower and shorter than in the UK as a whole”, he will continue in his “relentless” pursuit of efficiency. We will of course watch how all this progresses with interest.