Last week the Scottish Government presented its draft Budget for 2017 – 2018.
There is no doubt we are still going through tough financial times with Tory austerity, supported by Labour abstentions at Westminster, set to reduce the Scottish Budget by 9% in real terms by 2019.
This equates to Westminster slicing over £2.6 billion from funds supporting vital public services throughout Scotland. That amount of money could pay for 1 new world class hospital, 2,000 doctors, 5,000 nurses, 20 new secondary schools, 50 new primary schools, 3,000 teachers, 5,000 classroom assistants, 5,000 Police officers, the Scottish Government contribution to two major city deals and a substantial upgrade to our railways.
This comes on top of eight years of financial constraint presided over by Labour and Tory led UK governments, which has seen UK debt nearly triple, with working families and the poorest in society left to pay the price.
Against this backdrop, and despite the sniping from various Labour and Tory prophets of doom, my colleague, Derek McKay, unveiled a budget for growth and public services, announcing new investment in healthcare, education and local services, combined with support for jobs through lower business rates.
There will be an additional £304 million in resource funding for the NHS and the revenue budget for Police Scotland has been protected. £60 million will be invested in the workforce and infrastructure necessary to begin the expansion of early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours by 2021.
I was pleased to see that local councils will retain the additional £111 million they will raise from changes to the top Council tax bands. That is what Councils asked for and the Government listened. In addition, they have earmarked an additional £120 million attainment funding for schools to use at their discretion.
Local schools have already benefited from additional funding this year and it was a real pleasure to see the great work being done at Trinity High School last week and hear how this funding will help them continue and develop projects to close the attainment gap.
There was also good news for small business in the area with a 3.7% reduction in Rates. In addition, the threshold for 100% discount on Rates through the Small Business Bonus scheme has been raised from £10,000 to £15,000. This will benefit over 20 businesses on Rutherglen Main Street alone.
This Budget, through a fair and balanced set of tax and spending proposals, delivers increased investment in education and record investment in the NHS. It also protects low income households from tax hikes – we will not ask Scottish taxpayers to pay twice for Tory austerity.
As Christmas approaches our thoughts turn to family and friends, at home and abroad. We see the turmoil across the world, the horrific scenes from Syria and Yemen, and wonder what has happened to humanity. Scotland can be proud that it has stepped up to help so many Syrian families. We hope they have a peaceful time among us this Christmas.
As we look forward to spending time with loved ones it is natural to count our blessings when so many are suffering at this time.
Many people will be struggling to provide a Christmas meal and gifts for their families and many others will spend Christmas alone.
One of the best Christmas traditions is helping others less fortunate than we are, in whatever small way we can. So, please consider making a donation to your local foodbanks, who do a wonderful job helping those who are struggling at this time.
The festive period can also be a busy time for the NHS and emergency services. I am so grateful to all those who work through Christmas and New Year to keep these vital services going. One way we can help them is to consider giving blood.
Blood donation can drop by as much as 20% at this time of the year and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service is calling for regular donors to remember to donate, and for those who may not have donated before to consider doing so this year.
You can find out more about blood donation by contacting the Blood Transfusion Service on 0345 301 7270 or visiting their website: http://www.scotblood.co.uk.
However you are spending the festive season this year, I hope that it is happy and peaceful for you and your families and I wish all my constituents a prosperous 2017.