Vote forces SNP budget re-think

The Scottish government has been forced to re-think its move to bring forward a one-year budget after parliament voted to call for long-term plans.

Finance Secretary John Swinney last week outlined his plans for the year ahead, including £1bn of cuts.

But opposition parties accused ministers of a "dereliction of duty" for not bringing three-year proposals, as Wales and Northern Ireland had done.

The government said it would "reflect" on the vote at Holyrood.

Rival MSPs backed a Labour motion urging the government to bring forward longer-term plans as far ahead as 2015, while the final vote on the Scottish government's one-year, £28bn budget plans themselves will take place in February.

Mr Swinney said immediate public sector funding cuts had to be tackled, while a commission, led by Campbell Christie, former general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, would investigate long-term public services reform.

He told parliament: "We've published a one-year budget, we've set out our long-term thinking in terms of the policy focus on outcomes, we have established the Christie Commission to explore some of the questions about fundamental reform that has to be undertaken in the public sector to live within the spending environment in the period ahead.

"One of the reasons I am reluctant to set out long-term numbers is that I accept unreservedly that those numbers would have to change."

Key aims of the budget proposals include continuing the further council tax freeze and maintaining police numbers. Tough cuts have been made across all departments, although health spending has been protected.

But Scottish Labour deputy leader, Johann Lamont, said: "Instead of seeking co-operation to support people in these tough times, it acts in a way which keeps MSPs in this place in the dark, and more importantly keeps critical bodies and organisations, striving to deliver frontline services, in the dark too.

"It is our contention that this is a dereliction of duty, an abdication of responsibility, all sacrificed on the altar of party interest, not the country's interest."

Tory finance spokesman Derek Brownlee described the move as "an abdication of responsibility", adding: "The SNP's failure to produce longer-term figures means an election about generalities when the public are entitled to a choice on the specifics."

The Liberal Democrats' Jeremy Purvis, said: "The government has to provide leadership, and simply because it is six months before an election is not the reason why the government should abdicate that leadership to someone else."

The debate came the day after Mr Swinney said he regretted failing to tell parliament that the government's ability to vary income tax by 3p in the pound had lapsed, and could not be used until 2013-14.

Rival MSPs combined their votes to pass an amended parliamentary motion accusing SNP ministers of "an abuse of power" by failing to sustain Holyrood's tax powers and misleading parliament over the issue.

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