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DOUGLAS ROSS: Chancellor’s Budget delivers for the north-east

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, leaves No.11 Downing Street, ahead of delivering his budget.

With all the demands on Rishi Sunak in this Budget, the Chancellor certainly did not forget the north-east and support for the Aberdeen economy.

The UK Government has announced that it will invest £27 million into the Aberdeen Energy Transition Zone, to support the transition of the city’s economy from oil and gas to renewables, like offshore wind and hydrogen.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross.

The Budget also delivers an additional £5 million, on top of the £1.3 million already committed, to the Global Underwater Hub, to make Aberdeen the world leader in subsea engineering.

In addition, the Chancellor has reaffirmed the UK Government’s commitment to the potentially transformative North Sea Transition Deal, with £2 million allocated towards its development.

Taken together these investments are a timely boost for the north-east economy when it has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and last year’s all-time low oil price.

However, they are also interventions that could lead to greater opportunities for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire in the future.

Yet families and businesses across the north-east will not just benefit from the specific action taken by the Chancellor but also the wider package of measures contained in the Budget to support the whole of the UK to the end of the pandemic and as we recover from its impact.

The Budget included the extension of vital support schemes well into the next financial year that so many people have relied on throughout this pandemic.

This includes continuing the furlough and self-employment support schemes, which taken together have protected over 930,000 Scottish jobs, to September.

We will also see north-east businesses able to access new recovery loans. This builds on the £3.4 billion that the UK Government has already delivered to over 90,000 Scottish businesses, through schemes such as the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

For north-east hospitality and tourism businesses there was the even more welcome news that the VAT reduction would be extended through the year, with the rate remaining at 5% until September and increasing only to 12.5% after that.

For households, the Budget freezes fuel duty, the eleventh year in a row that a Conservative government has done so, saving north-east drivers £1,600. This is despite calls from the Scottish Government for the tax to be increased, which have been rightly rejected.

The Chancellor has also taken the very welcome decision to freeze spirit duty, which is an issue that my Scottish Conservative colleagues and I have campaigned for since being elected in 2017. This will be an important boost for the Scotch whisky sector and the 11,000 Scottish jobs it supports.

Finally, the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit will be extended, supporting some of the lowest paid and those with no income at all to the end of this pandemic.

Taken together, the spending commitments in this Budget deliver an additional £1.2 billion to Scottish public services through the Scottish Government.

Additional £13.3 billion

When combined with previous funding commitments, this will have meant that the Scottish Government will have received an additional £13.3 billion from the UK Government since the start of the pandemic.

As ever, the Scottish Conservatives will pressure the Scottish Government to deliver that funding to the frontline services responsible for managing the pandemic and cash-strapped businesses as soon as possible.

One area, where there is now a clear gap is on the decision to extend tax reliefs on home buyers in England to September, whereas the Scottish Government has taken the decision to increase them from April. We will be campaigning to deliver continued reliefs for home buyers in Scotland.

The measures set out in this Budget are a plan to protect jobs and businesses through the final stage of the pandemic and to deliver economic recovery for the north-east and the whole of Scotland afterwards.

We now need to see that same forward planning from the Scottish Government on their route map to end coronavirus restrictions, so that individuals, families and businesses have the certainty and hope they need to plan for their future.