20 December 2012

S4M-05203 Draft Budget 2013-14

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05203, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on the Finance Committee’s report on the draft budget 2013-14.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

When reviewing the given draft budget, we must ask whether the plan will increase sustainable economic growth. I believe that it will.

Goals are necessary considerations. Money allocation can be a mathematical process—one that could perhaps even be assigned to a computer. We know that the budget has a certain, tightened amount of money to work with and that there are a constant number of areas that require funding, unless we take Professor Kaye’s recommendation and just pick winning areas. However, that is not in alignment with the Government’s approach.

Professor Kaye talked about broadband simply being for people getting films over the internet. I would ask to him to look at my constituency and other rural areas in which, increasingly, people have to interact on the internet or not at all. Registering VAT returns is an internet-only option, and I have constituents who have a round trip of more than 20 miles to register their VAT, which is not terribly helpful to business.

Our goals take us away from the cold, complicated computations and instead allow us to aim higher. President John F Kennedy said:

“Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all.”

It is man and the deliberations of men and women that make the difference.

The Scottish Government has said that the budget’s priorities are to accelerate economic recovery, to continue the shift towards preventative approaches to public service delivery, and to maintain commitments to the social wage for Scotland, which is not something that is accepted in other parts of the chamber. These are all crucial and viable goals from which the people of Scotland will only benefit, and the drafting, reviewing and debating process provides an excellent opportunity to ensure that the final budget best meets those goals. It is also a time to debunk the notion that hacking off parts of the social wage will build support for anything other than further decline, not only economically and socially but in every other way.

Therefore, we must continue to keep our goals of growth and sustainability in mind when we take a closer look at the Scottish Government’s draft budget. There is £40 million for affordable housing, £18 million for skills training, and £80 million for schools for the future. These investments in housing, training and schooling are investments in our future.

Gavin Brown: Is the £80 million for schools for the future for next year’s budget?

Stewart Stevenson: You have read the budget as I have and you can see the number as I do. The £80 million for schools for the future is a very important part of creating the necessary infrastructure to ensure that we have a trained and effective population that can seize future opportunities. That is the important point.

The investment plans are directly for the people of Scotland, who are suffering from the downward spiral that the economy went into in 2008 and with which we will be grappling all the way to 2018. They aim to expand the availability of housing and schooling facilities, creating new jobs each year. Housing, skills and schools provide the resources for recovery.

Ken Macintosh: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Ah—I give way to the man who has lost his sock at the end of his bed because he is getting another for Christmas.

Ken Macintosh: I am trying to follow that metaphor.

I am pleased that Mr Stevenson says that the Government should be measured on how it achieves economic growth. However, the Government has also claimed that this is a budget for jobs. Does Mr Stevenson think that the Government should be measured on whether unemployment goes up or down, either in a stand-alone way or simply in comparison with the rest of the UK?

Stewart Stevenson: The member might be somewhat unwise to open up the rest of the UK, given that across the piece we are doing a bit better—and doing so without the powers that would enable us to balance taxation with expenditure in the way that a normal country can. Had we the full powers, we would have a full range of economic levers to address the situation beyond the success that we have had already.

Our investment in construction, skills and the green economy is in addition to a green investment package, with £30 million for fuel poverty, energy efficiency and low carbon transport, and plans to use the fossil fuel levy surplus to establish the renewable energy investment fund.

These are all steps in the right direction, bringing us closer to our climate change targets. Green jobs and a green economy will certainly meet our goals of growth in addition to sustainability—and there is more to come.
Last year, 95 per cent of the £2 billion transport budget was invested back into the private sector, supporting 12,000 jobs. Let us now plan to invest another £180 million over two years in construction, skills and the green economy. In my constituency, there will be £18 million to establish an energy skills academy, which is proudly being taken forward by Banff and Buchan College.

The economy is clearly going through a hard time, but not as hard a time as Ken Macintosh seems to be going through. He really needs “Accounting for Dummies”; if he does not buy it, his sock is going to be empty.


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