Scotland

Scottish government budget passed by MSPs

The minority Scottish government's £33bn budget has been passed by MSPs, after a series of last-minute concessions to opponents.

Finance Secretary John Swinney agreed to demands from the Lib Dems and Tories to boost support for youth employment, private sector projects and housing.

The SNP minister told parliament the measures were fully-funded without "detriment" to the spending plans.

The Scottish budget is being reduced by about £1bn after Treasury funding cuts.

The Budget Bill was passed by 79 votes to 48. Labour refused to support the plans.

Mr Swinney - who faced opposition claims that the budget, as it stood, failed to promote economic recovery - said a record 25,000 modern apprenticeships would now be delivered.

The finance secretary said he was providing an extra £15m for college bursaries between 2010 and 2012 and an extra £8m to back 1,200 more college places in 2011-12.

And he said an extra £10m would go to helping small businesses take on more workers.

Housing programmes will also get a £16m boost in 2011-12, the finance secretary added.

Mr Swinney told parliament: "I believe we have prepared a budget that best meets the needs of the people of Scotland.

"The government has listened to the calls that others have made of it and we responded in the spirit of building consensus across the chamber.

"At a time when businesses and households across Scotland are acting to set their own finances in order at this most challenging of times, it is essential for this parliament to do likewise."

Labour finance spokesman Andy Kerr said rising unemployment was the "signal failure" of four years of SNP government.

"Our focus today, tomorrow and the day after must be jobs, jobs, jobs," said Mr Kerr.

He added: "That is the priority of our constituents and the need of the country.

"The recovery of our economy is critical for every Scot - but no Scot could fail to be critical of the lack of economic foresight in this budget."

Conservative Derek Brownlee said: "This budget is a compromise - and it is the better for that.

"It is obvious it is not a Labour budget - it balances, and doesn't add another £200bn to national debt.

"This government - as its predecessor did - proclaims that growing the Scottish economy is its top priority - we did not feel that aim shone through the original draft budget."

Jeremy Purvis, the Lib Dem finance spokesman, added: "This is a better budget.

"It's better for young people wanting the skills they and we need for the economy, it's better for colleges that will able to provide more opportunities, and it's better for businesses that will have more opportunities to take on apprentices."

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said the budget passed only because the SNP had found enough votes, rather than on the basis of parliamentary "consensus".

Mr Swinney has already had to cover a £30m hole in the budget - the SNP's last before the May Scottish election - after failing to win enough support for his proposed tax on large retailers.

The finance secretary outlined several areas where the concessions could be paid for, including higher-than-expected income from non-domestic rates and an increase in the amount of cash to be carried forward to next year's budget.

The SNP budget will see cuts to spending and a public sector pay freeze, as well as a 3% "efficiency savings" target.

The finance secretary said he would shield local authorities from cuts if they agree to implement key SNP policies, including continuing the council tax freeze and maintaining police officer numbers - boosted by 1,000 since the SNP came into power in 2007.

NHS spending is protected, although there is a pledge to reduce the number of senior managers in the health service by 25% over the next four years.

Mr Swinney said the budget involved a £2.5bn infrastructure investment programme in health, education and transport.

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