Scotland politics

Scottish Lib Dem conference: Rennie outlines £475m boost for education

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Media captionMr Rennie says the pupil premium would help all primary and secondary school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in Scotland

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has used his Edinburgh conference speech to lay out his plans to boost education spending.

He wants to add 1p to income tax bands of Scottish workers to raise £475m to invest in the country's schools.

Mr Rennie told delegates £170m of the money raised would be used to create a "pupil premium" for children who needed extra support.

He said Lib Dems wanted "every individual to achieve their potential".

Holyrood's 2016/17 budget was passed without any tax rises on Wednesday.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems used the budget debate to call for an increase in income tax to protect and invest in services.

In his speech, Mr Rennie said that his party had four priorities for children and young people. They included:

  • expanding nursery education
  • implementing a pupil premium
  • stopping cuts to schools
  • and repairing cuts to colleges

Mr Rennie said that the plans would be paid for by putting one penny on income tax which would "secure a £475m return".

He added that the "pupil premium" would be worth £1,400 for each pupil who needed "extra support at primary" and £900 for "every secondary pupil from a disadvantaged background".

'Modest contribution'

Mr Rennie explained: "Our pupil premium will put money into every classroom. Every school gets money for children from poorer backgrounds.

"That's enough for more teachers for one-to-one help, for homework clubs or for extra equipment.

"That is how you close the attainment gap; by making the investment, by giving the life chances, and by backing your words up with action."

Ahead of addressing delegates at the Assembly Rooms on Friday afternoon, Mr Rennie took part in a BBC news online webchat in which he answered questions from the public.

He confirmed that his penny proposal would apply to all tax payers, including those on the standard rate.

ANALYSIS

By BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor

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Media captionWillie Rennie answered questions on his party's tax plan, the decriminalisation of drugs and Scotland's future in Europe

He detailed plans for a Pupil Premium, already in place in England, whereby resources are allocated to schools to assist pupils from deprived backgrounds.

Lib Dem candidates here at conference insist this is beginning to get a good reception on the doorsteps. They admit nobody likes paying tax - but believe the policy can gain traction if it can be guaranteed that the cash goes directly to local schools, not to local authorities.

Mr Rennie confirmed to me in a webcast interview that the policy could not be introduced before 2017 - because the 2016/17 tax rate has just been set by Holyrood. But he said, further, that the 1p levy across all rates would survive even after Holyrood gains the added power to vary changes in taxation between upper and lower rates.

Scottish Ministers have said no to an increase across the bands, arguing that it would be an unfair burden on those on lower incomes. A key battleground, of course, for the election.

Read more from Brian

Mr Rennie told BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor: "Because of the personal allowance, and the fact that we raised that personal allowance, you would have to earn over £19,000 to pay more.

"I think that is progressive and fair, because income tax is a progressive tax - those on the lowest income, even those above £19,000, are paying a fraction of what those in positions like myself who are earning a decent salary."

He said it was right that the money raised was spent on education.

Mr Rennie added: "It is a benefit to everyone in society. So, I think we will benefit all round.

"It is a modest contribution we are asking them [standard tax payers] to make for a big return."

Delegates at the two-day gathering will also hear from UK Lib Dem leader Tim Farron who is due to address them on Saturday afternoon.

Image caption UK Lib Dem leader Tim Farron will address the conference on Saturday

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