Scotland politics

Scottish government unveils last pre-referendum budget

John Swinney Image copyright PA
Image caption John Swinney said he was doing everything he currently could to support the economy

The Scottish government has published legislation to see through its final spending plans before the independence referendum.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said the 2014-15 budget included funding to expand free school meals and childcare places.

He said Scottish ministers were working to counter the UK government's "relentless austerity agenda".

The Budget Bill still needs final approval by MSPs.

Opposition parties have accused Mr Swinney of putting Scotland "on pause" until after the referendum, on 18 September.

The legislation sets out:

  • £55m to provide free school meals to all pupils in the first three years of primary school from January 2015
  • £59m to expand free childcare to hard-up families
  • £77m for business rate relief
  • £20m set against UK housing benefit cuts for recipients living in council housing deemed to have spare bedrooms, described as the "bedroom tax" by critics

Mr Swinney, who first announced the detail of his draft budget towards the end of last year, said: "Within our limited powers, this government is doing everything possible to tackle the effects of Westminster's cuts to the Scottish budget on our economy, their damaging welfare reform agenda and their relentless austerity agenda."

"With the full powers of independence, the Scottish government could do yet more to strengthen our economy, to create more jobs and to make the kind of transformational investment that would help thousands of people back into work."

The finance secretary said the Scottish government's policies had been borne out in latest GDP figures, which said Scotland's economy grew 2.1% in the third quarter of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012.

Opposition parties have said policies promised by the Scottish government in the event of independence - such as providing 30 hours of childcare per week in term time for all three and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds - could be delivered now.

As part of his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne said the Scottish government budget, funded by a Treasury block grant, would increase by £308m over next two years.

He said that meant spending by the Holyrood administration would be cut by less than 0.2%.

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