Last week, the Scottish Government Finance Minister, Derek Mackay, delivered a draft Scottish Budget which took some big steps to make our tax system even fairer and more progressive. As a result of the changes he announced, the majority of Scots will be paying less in income tax next year compared to the rest of the UK.
These changes to the taxation system asks those with more ability to pay a little more – to continue providing high quality public services.
In addition to the changes to the tax system, the Government also announced significant additional investment in the NHS, giving public sector workers a three per cent pay rise, and investing £4.75billion in Scotland’s infrastructure and affordable homes.
People in Scotland already benefit from a significant range of policies that the Tories at Westminster do not provide for the rest of the UK – leaving Scottish taxpayers as the only ones to benefit from a strong social contract.
The new, fairer and more progressive income tax system adds to an extensive list of existing policies that benefit all of Scotland including: lower Council Tax bills; higher health spending – with the best performing A&E departments anywhere in the UK; free prescriptions; free university tuition; universal free school meals for P1-3; baby boxes for all new-borns; the doubling of free childcare entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds, and extending to 2 year olds from low-income households; the effective abolition of the bedroom tax in Scotland; the protection of free personal care, and the expansion of Educational Maintenance Allowance, which has been scrapped entirely south of the border.
Scottish taxpayers can also look forward to the introduction of other vital policies, including ‘Frank’s Law’ to extend free personal care to those under 65 who need it, as well as a new Scottish Social Security system with dignity and respect at its heart.
Our budget provides the investments needed to meet the challenges of today, and to seize the opportunities of tomorrow. It is a budget that ensures we keep delivering progress for all of Scotland.
Another priority in the budget is to support the delivery of air quality improvements and, in particular, the delivery of Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone in 2018, with the allocation of £60 million for a Low Carbon Innovation Fund.
The first Low Emission Zone will be in Glasgow and, initially, bus operators will be required to have quotas of their fleets compliant with clean engine regulations, to allow them to access the city centre. £16 million has already been spent by the Scottish Green Bus Fund to support the introduction of low emission buses, and a further £1.6 million is being provided to facilitate a Bus Retrofit Programme for Scotland.
Tackling air pollution must be a priority, particularly in our cities and busy urban areas, and we should be aiming, in a phased way and over time, to create the best possible environment for communities to flourish by improving air quality.
I was delighted, therefore, to meet recently with Cambuslang Community Council, who are about to embark on their own air quality survey in the New Year. Cambuslang Main Street was recently dubbed “the fourth dirtiest in Scotland”, with high nitrogen dioxide levels. Quite rightly, this is of great concern to the Community Council and, in conjunction with Strathclyde University’s Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering, they will do a study of both indoor and outdoor air quality and traffic pollution in Cambuslang.
The survey will commence mid-January and will consist of placing monitors at 14 locations between Westburn Drive and Douglas Gate. The Community Council are looking for volunteer property owners or occupiers to assist. This is an excellent, proactive initiative by the local community which will hopefully inform a future low emission zone in the area. I would encourage residents to do what they can to assist. Better air quality is in all our interests and will also have positive benefits for our health services.
With Christmas now upon us, many will be looking forward to a well-earned break and spending quality time with family and friends. I would like to thank all of those who will be working over Christmas to ensure that we are safe, and also the many volunteers who will be giving up their time to ensure those less fortunate have a warm meal and a safe place to go.
However you are spending the festive season, I would like to wish you and yours a very happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous 2018.
Date published: 20th December 2017