Here's my e-newsletter sent out after the budget today - I've slightly amended it for blog purposes but it's more or less the same.
A Budget for Scotland
As I’m sure many of you are aware, today saw the passing of the Scottish budget. We heard some fantastic news for Glasgow and for Scotland as a whole and I was absolutely delighted to support today’s budget. This really is, in every sense, a budget for all of Scotland. Bear in mind the Scottish Government is having to manage all of this in the face of unprecedented cuts from Westminster.
So below I’ve detailed some further announcements that the Scottish Government have committed to in today’s budget.
A further £11.5 million to create 25, 000 modern apprenticeship places
This absolutely has to be the biggest and best announcement for me. At a time when people across Scotland, particularly young people, are facing real challenges to secure employment, action like this is vital for them. It demonstrates to me that the Scottish Government take unemployment seriously and have put their money where their mouth is. I’ll be fighting to ensure that Glasgow sees as many of these new apprenticeship places as possible. Right now we’re doing all we can, but with the powers of independence we can do so much more.
Yet again we are funding a council tax freeze
I have always believed in freezing the council tax and fully support the Government in their efforts to do so, but it is important that they match this with the funding to councils so that services are not affected. So not only do I welcome the freeze and the relief that it will provide for households across Glasgow, but I also welcome the funding that ensures councils aren’t short changed because of this measure.
Funding to continue and uplift the small business bonus scheme
Despite Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Tories voting to stop large retailers paying a tiny amount more in business rates, a proposal that would’ve given us an extra £30 million, I’m extremely happy to see the Government continue rates relief for our small businesses. There are some fantastic businesses around Glasgow that have really benefited from this scheme, and I’m delighted to hear that 64, 000 small businesses will be removed from paying business rates – saving them an average of £4, 100 per year. In turn this will increase employment opportunities and support our local economies.
Prescriptions to be free for all
Prescription charges are a tax on the sick – nothing more and nothing less. I’ve been happy to see them significantly reduced, but will be overjoyed to see the complete abolition of prescription charges all together. This, for me, shows that the Scottish Government has got its priorities right.
£15 million in funding for college bursaries
Back in the early days of the Scottish Government, they took the decision to abolish the graduate endowment. I thought that was the right decision for Scotland’s students and believe it demonstrated their commitment to students across Scotland. Today, in the last budget of this Parliament, the Scottish Government announced an additional £15 million for Scotland’s students to fund college bursaries. I’m proud of the work that this government has done for Scotland’s students and believe that this announcement today further demonstrates their commitment to higher and further education.
I congratulate the hundreds of you who’ve emailed me on this issue. It is also well worth noting that this is £1 million more than the amount NUS Scotland asked for.
A huge issue, particularly in Glasgow, is the issue of teacher numbers. I’m delighted at the announcement to guarantee a probation place for every newly-qualified teacher and provide enough teaching jobs for every post-probationer in 2011/12.
£10 million support for SME employment creation
Focused on new starts, sole traders and small firms to take on new employees by assisting with employment and recruitment costs and assist with exports. This is an important measure that will help combat unemployment in our communities. Scotland needs a budget that helps create jobs and it’s clear to see from measures like this one, that that is what the Government have delivered.
£16 million further investment in housing
I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear John Swinney announce this in Parliament today. Housing is probably the number one issue that people come to see me about and is something that we badly need more of. Just like with the apprenticeship places, I’ll be fighting to bring as much of this investment to Glasgow as possible. The great thing about this announcement is that it doesn’t just create new housing, but also creates new construction jobs to go with them, and combined with the 25,000 apprenticeships, we are definitely moving in the right direction. It’s measures like this that enable me to call this budget, a budget for all of Scotland.
In conclusion …
I’m sure that you will agree that these measures are good news for Scotland. Despite Scotland’s budget being cut by £1.3 billion from Westminster, I believe that John Swinney has done a fantastic job in balancing the books and getting his priorities right – that’s why I was delighted to support the budget.
The announcements above are only the headline announcements and are in addition to previous commitments made at stage 1 back in October.
I’m deeply disappointed that Labour voted against all of these measures and didn’t bring forward a simply amendment or any alternatives whatsoever. That is up to them, but I’m not clear who it helps. I guess they think it helps them in terms of getting votes and it's sad that they have become too cynical to put petty politics behind them but as I said, that's up to them. For now I'm just delighted that Scotland has a budget.