Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has insisted that the Covid pandemic must not be allowed to define Scotland’s future, with the promise that her Scottish Budget this week will serve as a “stepping stone towards a fairer, greener” nation.
Ms Forbes will reveal her draft tax and spending plans for 2022-23 in a statement to Holyrood on Thursday.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already confirmed this will include cash to double the Scottish Child Payment, which helps youngsters in poorer families, from £10 a week to £20 a week from April – a move widely welcomed by anti-poverty campaigners.
However Ms Sturgeon has also warned that funding this commitment will mean hard choices elsewhere in the Budget.
Ms Forbes also said that the Budget this year would be “set against a challenging fiscal backdrop as a result of the UK Government’s decision to reduce Scotland’s day-to-day spending by removing ongoing Covid funding, despite the continuing impacts of the pandemic”.
The UK Government however insists that it is providing record amounts of cash to Holyrood.
In his Budget statement in October, Chancellor Rishi Sunak claimed the Scottish Government was in line to receive £41 billion a year from Westminster.
However Scottish ministers argue that when additional spending over the last two years to help cope with Covid is included, the amount they will have at their disposal will fall in 2022-23.
Despite this Ms Forbes pledged: “The Budget I will present on Thursday will enable the Scottish Government to make good on our promise to build a fairer, greener Scotland. That is our social, economic and environmental imperative.”
It comes at what she described as a “critical time for Scotland”, with the Finance Secretary noting: “We are still in the grip of the pandemic and families and businesses across the country are bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis.
“However, in these times of crisis, we need to go beyond the norm.
“While the pandemic may have defined our lives in recent times, the Scottish Government is determined it does not define our future. The 2022-2023 Scottish Budget that I will present on Thursday is another stepping stone towards a fairer, greener, more prosperous future.”
Ms Forbes promised that her Budget proposals would help “provide certainty and stability for families whilst working to reduce inequalities” – adding that the process for this had already begun with the commitment to double the Scottish Child Payment from April.
This will initially benefit 105,000 youngsters under the age of six – but that will rise to more than 400,000 children when the payment is rolled out to all those under 16 at the end of 2022.
In the wake of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, Ms Forbes also pledged the Scottish Government would “invest in infrastructure that allows us to drive down emissions and create the green jobs of the future that come with the transition to a greener Scotland”.
Thursday’s Budget will also look to set out plans to bolster economic recovery and support public services, she added.
Scottish Conservative finance and economy spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “The SNP must deliver a Budget that fully focuses on Scotland’s recovery from Covid.
“Scottish jobs, businesses and public services must be protected and supported through this difficult time.
“Above all else, this budget must kickstart Scotland’s economic recovery and start rebuilding our public services.”
Scottish Labour said the SNP must make sure the fight against poverty “runs through every part of this budget”.
The party’s social security and social justice spokeswoman Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “This budget will set the tone for our recovery from the pandemic and it is essential that we get it right.
“Tackling the scale of child poverty in Scotland is the challenge of a generation.
“If we miss our statutory child poverty targets, not only will we be breaking Parliament’s commitment to do it, we’ll be catastrophically failing children across the country.”