Scotland politics

Week ahead at Holyrood: Will the budget pass?

First minister and Derek Mackay Image copyright Andrew Cowan

A key moment of the parliamentary year comes around again this week - but will the budget pass?

MSPs will debate the Budget Bill on Thursday afternoon.

But as things stand, it seems unlikely the Scottish government will garner enough backing to see it go through.

The Scottish Greens - thought to be the most likely partners - have said they will not support the government unless changes to local government taxes are made.

Of course this leaves three other parties it could strike a deal with.

But the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems seem unlikely partners this year (though it is worth noting that all three having backed SNP budgets in the past).

There is the possibility of abstentions, which could mean the Budget Bill passes at this stage to allow talks to continue.

All this means that we are in for a fairly unusual week.

So what about the rest of this week?

Tuesday - St John's children's ward

Image copyright Eckstasy
Image caption The children's ward at St John's stopped taking new in-patients at night in 2017

MSPs will be updated on the situation at St John's Hospital's children's ward on Tuesday afternoon.

Paediatric services at the West Lothian hospital have not been running 24 hours since June 2017 due to staff shortages.

In a statement in September, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the ward would not fully re-open until there were safe levels of staffing, but she insisted there had been "encouraging progress".

After that, MSPs are to debate the Scottish government's draft social isolation and loneliness strategy, published in December.

The two-year strategy, backed by £1m, is to ensure the problem is treated as a public health issue.

That evening's member's debate will be led by Tory MSP Graham Simpson, who will call for progress in ensuring housing meets the needs of older people so they can remain at home for longer.

In the morning, the health committee will begin stage two consideration of the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill.

The proposed legislation seeks to place an existing workforce planning tool onto a statutory footing.

Concerns were expressed throughout the stage one debate about safe staffing levels, ensuring the right balance of skills and how it will impact the care sector.

Wednesday - Education focus

Image copyright Thinkstock

The afternoon offering at Holyrood will focus on two debates led by the Scottish Conservatives: the first will be on education and the second on crime.

Then SNP MSP Gail Ross will celebrate the Equally Safe at Work pilot, a new scheme designed to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.

The education committee continues its inquiry into the Scottish national standardised assessments in the morning, this time hearing from Upstart Scotland - the organisation behind the campaign to end P1 tests.

Education Secretary John Swinney announced an independent review into the assessments in October following concerns they were not in line with play-based learning.

Mr Swinney has suggested the assessments should be "reformed not abolished", but he also accepted the review "might" recommend that they be scrapped altogether.

Standardised assessments were introduced in 2017 in a bid to gather more data about the stages children have reached in their learning, with literacy and numeracy tests carried out at P1, P4, P7 and S3 level.

Thursday - Women in STEM

Image copyright Getty Images

Following FMQs at noon, Labour MSP Iain Gray will urge the Scottish government to reflect on the numbers of women studying STEM subjects.

It follows a report which said the proportion for female STEM students had seen "at best, incremental improvement, and, at worst, further decline".

Then onto the Budget Bill debate after lunch.

While full committee listings are yet to be published, one of interest is the Social Security Committee as it discusses the draft social security charter with cabinet secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

The charter forms a central tenet of the Social Security (Scotland) Act and seeks to set out the core principles of Scotland's new social security system.