Scottish budget: MSPs pass government spending plans
The Scottish government's £30bn budget for the year ahead has been passed by parliament, in the face of severe criticism from opposition parties.
Finance Secretary John Swinney agreed to boost college and housing funding, following demands from Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems.
But the opposition claimed budgets were still being reduced.
Mr Swinney said his spending plans would promote economic recovery, despite being hit by Westminster cuts.
Ultimately, the SNP's parliamentary majority ensured the government's Budget Bill was passed by 68 votes to 56.
In a series of last-minute changes, Mr Swinney said there would be:
- A £61m increase in college funding over the three-year spending review period, putting the college budget at £522m in 2013/14 and £522m in 2014/15.
- An additional £38m for housing, bringing total budget for housing supply to £859m.
- £2m to bring empty town centre properties into residential use.
- An extra £10m for vital trunk road and bridge repairs.
- and £1m to double support for entrepreneurship.
The cash to pay for the changes will come from squeezing loans to public utility Scottish Water, and other areas.
Mr Swinney said it was important to strike the "best possible deal we can" for colleges, to deliver for young people in the future.
The broader strategy? Self-evidently, to produce a balance budget, as per the law.
Once again, to divert as much as feasible to capital investment.
And, above all, to seek to pacify, once and for all, the political controversy over college funding.
He told the Scottish Parliament: "The Scottish government has delivered a budget for growth.
"We are building on our original spending plans having listened to the views of parliament and the country and are delivering extra funding for housing, creating jobs and cutting emissions, funding to regenerate our town centres, more support for entrepreneurship, investment in our trunk road network and a decisive further investment into our colleges."
Colleges said they were "delighted" with the deal, but the National Union of Students (NUS) said earlier government plans for a £35m funding reduction still meant a £24.6m cut in the college budget.
Delivering his verdict on the budget, Labour finance spokesman Ken Macintosh, said: "There is nothing new here, nothing fresh, we are stuck with the same prescription the SNP have offered us for two years running and for two years running they have promised jobs and growth and yet there have been no jobs and no growth."
Gavin Brown, of the Conservatives, said of the Scottish government: "They asked to be judged on what this budget did for the economy.
"Mr Swinney said that he would put every single additional pound that he could into the economy, but we see disappointing results in colleges, we see disappointing results when it comes to housing and we see more disappointing results when it come to taxation."
Mr Brown also attacked SNP MSPs who applauded Mr Swinney's college announcement, adding: "They will regret watching that back on television, I have to say, as I don't think there will be any spontaneous rounds of applause outside the chamber for a £24m cut to colleges."
End Quote John Henderson Chief executive, Scotland's Colleges
We are delighted. This is welcome - hugely welcome”
On the same theme, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie told parliament: "I found it astonishing there was celebration on the SNP benches when a cut of £25m was announced - that's nothing to celebrate.
"£10m was nothing compared with the £35m cut that was planned and I find that really, really, disappointing."
Mr Rennie also expressed regret that ministers did not act on his call to extend childcare to more two-year-olds.
Green MSP Patrick Harvie, said: "The SNP continue to make the wrong choices with precious resources.
"They are picking the pockets of the least well off to pay for big ticket projects that will only benefit big business."
The Scottish government said its budget, funded by the Treasury, was being cut by about 8% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15, as Westminster ministers seek to cut the spending deficit.
Responding to the budget, John Henderson, chief executive of Scotland's Colleges, said: "We are delighted. This is welcome - hugely welcome. The picture has changed very significantly.
"It gives colleges stability and allows us to complete the reform process. £61m more than planned over two years means we can complete reforms and provide students with a wide range of quality courses."
NUS Scotland president Robin Parker, added: "While the efforts of students across Scotland have seen tens of millions put back into the budget, compared to what was originally proposed, we can't accept a cut of £24.6m to colleges, on top of huge cuts over the last few years."