Fergus Ewing Column

Derek’s Day

It was Derek Mackay’s, Scotland’s Finance Secretary’s day in Holyrood when the first stage of debating our budget proposal led to endorsement by the Scottish Parliament.

The package of measures will increase spending in the areas that I believe constituents value most – and cause most concerns about cuts resultant from the poorer financial settlements from Westminster. Health education and public sector pay for those earning low or modest earnings are included.

Behind the scenes negotiations took place with the Greens and latterly the Lib Dems. Ultimately the package was approved with support from the Greens and two of the Lib Dem’s – the MSPs for Orkney and Shetland where a campaign for assistance with their infra island ferry services, for which Local Authorities are responsible received some funding.

The Conservatives in London set the Scottish Budget and it has been falling in real terms since 2011. Of course they have to pay the eye watering Brexit Bill which may ultimately amount to about twice the total budget for public services in Scotland!

Over the past few months as the local constituency MSP many constituents have expressed profound concern about possible cuts to health and education services. The Highland Council floated reducing money for additional needs support which caused widespread worry and anger. The NHS staff do a great job but more funding is most certainly needed. From my perspective, there is simply no doubt about these two fundamental needs for further support for health and education.

Therefore our budget will add £400Million to the NHS and £135M to local government funding. This money will be found largely by raising a bit more taxation from those earning the most – including MSPs! However, that is balanced by two measures. Those earning low or modest earnings will be taxed less – most less than elsewhere in the UK. Secondly public sector workers earning up to £36, 500 will receive a minimum pay increase of 3%. That will help three quarters of all NHS workers for example.

What was really sad is that both the major opposition parties chose to play no part in any negotiation. To me this is simply opposition politics at its most pointless. Derek made a formal offer to each party to use for their own tax proposals the Fiscal Commission modelling programme – to work out what their proposals would mean. After all raising the rate of tax may not raise the tax revenue because obviously people may take steps to avoid paying it. Neither the Tories nor Labour took up this offer, nor set out their proposals.

I cannot see this approach earning much respect from the public. The budget is serious business. It impacts on people and their families.

However, Derek MacKay emerged from the process with a clear deal and the certainty that that brings. He was the man of the hour and his credibility and stature has risen as a result.

Highlanders join rural programme

After the budget was over I spoke to and answered questions from a group of 60 people taking part in a Rural Leadership Programme. This course has turned out over 500 graduates over ten years.

But it was a central belt course – developed and run by Scottish Enterprise. After discussions with Charlotte Wright of HIE it was agreed that for this year students from the Highlands and Islands would also take part. After all, since the course is so successful in helping people develop their skills and understanding of the rural economy why should highlanders be left out?

In fact, one of the questions was from a student from Elgin who made these precise points. I therefore hope that we can confirm future support for this worthy course. People are our most valuable asset, and investing in tried and tested successful training courses is no more than a sensible investment in that asset!

Young learner

Helping our daughter (9) with our homework recently, I was instructed by her to use the iPad to help go through the maths questions – sums as I used to know them. I said that when I was a boy there were no computers – only blackboards, chalk and jotters. The response from our Natasha, I cannot really fault or quibble with:

“Daddy, you need updating!”

By Fergus Ewing MSP