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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
10th February 2011


Money money money

Well forgive me for thinking that when you negotiate a deal and you get everything you want and more from that deal that you would think that you had….yes you guessed it….a deal.

Well yesterday we had the budget and John Swinney in his financial wizardry had managed to ensure that all the political parties demands as far as the reasonable ones go were met. But labour again in their …..eh wisdom!!! Decided to vote against the budget. Now I think that having a budget process that allows all parties to contribute makes a better budget for Scotland so you would think that the budget produced yesterday would be worth supporting. Oh but for labour it was a no.

Labour have voted against everything in the budget today, all of which is outlined below. These include key ‘Labour’ priorities such as apprenticeships, jobs for young people, support for jobs in the voluntary sector, housing etc. However their biggest crime is the fact that, during the budget negotiations, John Swinney accepted all of Labour’s demands, and in many cases we exceeded what they asked, but they failed to respond to this offer. Then, during the budget debate yesterday, Andy Kerr and other Labour MSPs gave a series of reasons for not supporting the budget, such as lack of money for nurses, classroom assistants, social care etc. However, Andy Kerr raised none of these issues with John Swinney during the budget negotiations! For the second time this week (following the Megrahi revelations), Scottish Labour have been caught being completely hypocritical and playing politics with hugely serious issues.

Budget – what it means

Below is what the budget will do for the people for Scotland. This is what Labour has voted against.

• Invest a further £11.5 million to create 25,000 modern apprenticeship places - a record high for Scotland and 60% more than under Labour’s last year (07/08).

Continued funding for council tax freeze – by the end of next year the average Band D family will have saved £322 since the SNP introduced the freeze.

Funding to continue and uplift the SNP’s flagship Small Business Bonus Scheme, removing 64,000 small businesses from business rates and saving them up to £4,100.

• The creation of a £70m ‘change fund’ to help local authorities and health boards deal with the rising costs of providing social care. This is a precursor to plans to further integrate the two.

Funding to abolish prescription charges.

• Provide 7,000 flexible training opportunities for SMEs - 2,000 more than originally planned in the draft Budget

• Invest £8 million to provide enough funding for an extra 1,200 college places

• Invest an additional £15 million across 2010-11 and 2011-12 in funding for college bursaries;

• Maintain educational grants for pupils and college students most in need which were cut south of the border;

• Guarantee a probation place for every newly-qualified teacher and provide enough teaching jobs for every post-probationer in 2011-12;

• New Early Years and Early Intervention Fund, with start-up funding of £5 million;

£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;

• £2m Freight Facilities Grant;

• £1m Post office Diversification Scheme;

£12.5 million for Urban Regeneration Companies – increase of £6 million on the Draft budget;

• £16 million further investment in Housing;

Funding to maintain 1,000 additional police officers;

• Protect Health Spending and continue provisions for free personal care;

• Continuing Small Business Bonus Scheme;

• £2.5 billion infrastructure investment programme;

• Infrastructure Commitments such as the new Forth crossing, New South Glasgow Hospitals project and school building programme

• £70 million Renewables Infrastructure Fund – over four years;

• £48 million support for energy assistance package and Home Insulation Scheme.

• Funding to implement a living wage of £7.15 an hour for staff whose pay is controlled by the Scottish Government, and a minimum increase of £250 for staff earning under £21000.

Key policies

Apprenticeships

It is frankly unbelievable that a Labour party could vote against a budget which includes such a good deal on apprenticeships.

• The Budget has been amended at Stage 3 to increase the number of apprenticeships funded by the Scottish Government from 20,000 this year to 25,000 next year (made up of 20,000 Scottish Government-funded and 5000 European-funded)

This is a 25% increase, and is 58% more than in 2007/8 (the last year for which Labour set the budget).

• The figures below show that Labour allowed the number of apprenticeships to go into free-fall; however the SNP Government has reversed this trend.

  03-04 04-05 05-06 06-07 07-08 08-09 09-10 10-11 11-12
MA Starts 20,649 21,349 20,266 16,930 15,772 10,700 20,216 20,000* 25,000*

*planned

• Labour had cut the number of new start places by almost a fifth (17%) by 2006/7 when there were just over 15,000 new places

• Our investment in apprenticeships in 2010/11 was around £60million.

We exceeded last year’s target of 18,500 Modern Apprentices and instead delivered more than 20,000.

College places/bursaries

The Budget has been amended at Stage 3 to provide an additional 1200 college places, at a cost of £8m. This funding covers both teaching and student support costs. The money will be given to the Funding Council for distribution amongst colleges. In addition, NUS Scotland has been running a high-profile ‘Budget for Bursaries’ campaign which is seeking an extra £14m for college bursaries.

The Budget Bill has been amended at Stage 3 to provide an extra £15m.

• Since the SNP Government took over in 2007 we have taken unprecedented steps to help with the costs of studying at college.

• We have recognised the pressure that college budgets have faced due to the recession and taken steps to alleviate it.

This current year’s further education student funding budget is £83.9m – up 16% in just two years.

• All spending decisions taken by the Scottish Government for 2011-12 must be considered in the context of the £1.3billion (cash terms) and £1.8billion (real terms) cut to our budget that has been forced on us by the UK Conservative-Lib Dem Government in just this one year. If the Scottish Parliament had full authority over its own budget, and received the revenue raised from Scotland and Scotland’s seas – as we call for in the SNP – the country’s finances would be in a far better position.

Funding support for further education students in next year’s budget has been protected from cuts. The number of places on offer at Scotland’s colleges will not go down. These are major commitments in the current situation, and compare with a 25% cut to further education in England.

The Scottish Government has also chosen to continue the Education Maintenance Allowance – a crucial payment for 16- and 17-year olds that the Conservative-Lib Dem Government has withdrawn in England.

• We are already working together with NUS to find a way forward, and this is including discussions about moving from local discretion to entitlement in our regular meetings with them. NUS have previously made this point with regard to childcare funding for students in higher education and we have been receptive to their case. There are difficulties in setting hard and fast national standards when local knowledge of individual circumstances can play an important role. We value our positive relationship with NUS and will keep working constructively with student representatives to find solutions to the problems we all agree need to be solved.

Post Office Diversification Fund

• Last year’s budget negotiations led to the creation of a £1m Post office Diversification Fund which, as the title suggests, was designed to help post offices stay open in the face of declining usage by diversifying their businesses.

• Since then, the application window has been and gone and 49 post offices were awarded funding of up to £25,000 each. Postmasters came forward with a variety of innovative proposals to develop new revenue streams such as retailing, selling different goods, or providing a business service not already available in their locality.

• A full list of the successful applications – including what they were awarded the money for - is available here
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Business-Industry/support/podiversificationfondscot/awardlist#top
.

• This year the Budget has been amended at Stage 3 to include the continuation of this fund.

Freight Facilities Grant

• As requested by the Transport Committee in their report, the Budget will provide an extra £2m for the Freight Facilities Grant scheme.

• This will ensure we continue to encourage a shift in the movement of goods from road to rail and water freight.

• Awards of Freight Facilities Grant total over £72 million, and these projects have been instrumental in removing over 120 million lorry miles from Scotland's roads, in turn reducing Scotland's carbon emissions. This additional money announced today will continue to contribute to this reduction, in turn encouraging the freight industry to the move its goods by more sustainable modes of transport.

• Typically over shorter distances road freight is cheaper than rail or water as there are no additional handling costs. The Scottish Government operates 4 freight grant schemes which all have the aim of encouraging the transfer of freight from road to rail or water where the road option is cheaper, thereby resulting in more sustainable freight movement. The capital Freight Facilities Grant scheme levels the playing field in terms of cost between road and the more sustainable options of rail and water by co-funding the development of freight facilities.

Urban regeneration

• The Budget includes £31m for urban regeneration, an increase of £6 million on funding planned in the draft budget.

• The funding will support regeneration plans for new houses, transport links, community facilities, retail and business sites and land and street scaping.

• Four areas will see transformational change - Clyde Gateway in the East end of Glasgow, Inverclyde waterfront, Clydebank and Irvine Bay in Ayrshire.

• Transforming Scotland's run down and derelict sites into areas of prosperity that offer opportunities for people to live and work is a major priority for the Scottish Government. Times are hard, the UK government has embarked on a ruthless programme of savage cuts, and Scotland is suffering at their hands.

Council tax freeze

• Once again, Labour have shown their determination to scupper the council tax freeze by voting against this budget.

• If it continues for another year, the council tax freeze will have saved the average Scottish Band D taxpayer £322.

• At the same time, Labour would rather put up council tax than charge a bit more in business rates to the largest retailers.

• The table on the following page shows how much extra taxpayers would have paid next year had Labour got their way and the council tax freeze money was withdrawn (source S3W-36495). Labour remain in a complete mess over what to do with the council tax:

Daily Record Labour leader Iain Gray demands end to council tax freeze to help authorities offset Tory cuts” – 17 Aug 2010.

Iain Gray: “Well, we’ve never been against freezing the council tax” – Politics Show, 24 Oct

Then he caps it "I think in the current circumstances, you're talking about one or two percent." BBC, 29 October, 2010.

Says it all really Labour are more interested in petty party point scoring than the real needs of the people of Scotland.

Now think - who would you rather have John Swinney or Andy (disnae have a clue) Kerr.  I know who I will be voting for.

Last weekend I was invited to reply for the lassies at the East Kilbride Burns supper, it was a smashing night of song, prose, recitation and humour. Harvey Littlejohn the past president of the Kilbride Burns club gave an absolutely fabulous immortal memory and even sang some of the songs in his presentation. Bill Kidd MSP was in fine if not cheeky form when toasting the lassies and Rob Gibson MSP sang a few lovely songs and also sang the address to the haggis. Rob does have a fair sonsie face indeed Kawuki Julius from Kampala Uganda gave a wonderful rendition of the Selkirk Grace.

Here are some pictures of the event which was chaired by the fantastically fabulous Linda Fabiani MSP.

See you all next week cheerio.

Christina McKelvie MSP
Central Scotland


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