MSPs back the general principles of the budget

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MSPs backed the general principles of Finance Secretary John Swinney's final budget before the independence referendum on 22 January 2014.

90 MSPs backed the Budget Bill, 13 voted against the principles and there were two abstentions.

Opening the debate, Mr Swinney said his spending plans for 2014-15 would "support Scotland's economy, help some of the most vulnerable in our society and deliver the high quality public services that people in Scotland expect".

"Our plans meet the challenges of the times - the need for a strong economic recovery, the impact of Westminster austerity and welfare cuts, and the protection of public services - all to be achieved within the legal and financial limits placed upon us."

The finance sectary concluded his speech saying: "It is a budget based upon this government's vision of a nation founded on the principles of fairness and prosperity and one which demonstrates the benefits to Scotland of decisions being taken in Scotland by those who care most about Scotland, those that live and work here."

Measures in the Budget (Scotland) (No 3) Bill include:

  • £55m to provide free school meals to all pupils in the first three years of primary school from January 2015
  • £59m to expand free childcare to hard-up families
  • £77m for business rate relief
  • £20m set against UK housing benefit cuts for recipients living in council housing deemed to have spare bedrooms, described as the "bedroom tax" by critics
  • Continue the council tax freeze, along with universal benefits like free prescriptions

The finance secretary committed to "working constructively with all parties to build agreement on the bill's contents" and said he would consider alternative spending proposals with identified resources to fund them.

Scottish Labour finance spokesperson Iain Gray said his party would support the principles of the budget, despite its "weaknesses", due to ongoing talks about "fully mitigating the impact of the bedroom tax".

Labour are calling for the mitigation for the housing benefit cut to be increased from £20m to £50m annually and Mr Gray said it was time to "consign the bedroom tax to history in Scotland right here right now".

Gavin Brown, the finance spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, said the budget was a "weak budget that does not put the economy front and centre" explaining that was why his party could not back the bill.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie welcomed the government's commitment to expanding childcare and school meals entitlement, but said the budget may not get his party's backing, depending on the outcome of the discussions over the next two weeks.

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