19 December 2012

Autumn Budget Statement

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): We move to a statement by John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, on the autumn budget statement. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions. Mr Swinney—you have 10 minutes.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

In the light of the UK Government’s extension of austerity to 2018, what risks for Scottish jobs are created by its continuing failure to fund fully the shovel-ready projects on the Scottish Government’s list or—alternatively—to provide Scotland with the normal powers of an independent country so that we can do it for ourselves?

John Swinney: Stewart Stevenson highlights one of my frustrations in relation to capital expenditure in recent years. The widely accepted view has been that more capital investment by the public sector would have helped to support the process of growth in the economy in a sustained way since 2008.

We warned, when the austerity programme started in 2010, that there would be a consequential impact on economic activity; we take no pleasure in seeing that our view has been vindicated. The fact that the United Kingdom Government has now put in place more capital investment indicates that it got that wrong in 2010, and our persistent pressure has delivered a solution that will assist in the process. It is clear that we could have, if we had had that resource earlier, made more of an impact on the economy. However, we will now deploy that resource effectively to try to support the process.

On Mr Stevenson’s final point, if Parliament had the full range of economic powers that any other independent country takes for granted, we could clearly make more of an impact.

(S4O-01623) Health Service (Policies and Priorities)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

6. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether its policies and priorities for the health service are being undermined by United Kingdom Government policies. (S4O-01623)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing (Alex Neil): Healthcare provision is a devolved responsibility. I reiterate our continued commitment to a publicly funded and publicly delivered national health service in Scotland. We have categorically ruled out the reforms that are under way in England and have reaffirmed the commitment to continuing to provide world-leading, high-quality and sustainable healthcare for the people of Scotland that reflects the values of the national health service.

Stewart Stevenson: Parliament recently passed the Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Bill, which will ensure that more disabled people can live with dignity and independence. Does the minister agree that the UK Government’s wrong-headed assaults on disability benefits will undermine the Scottish Government’s commitment to independent living?

Alex Neil: It will come as no surprise to members that I agree absolutely with that point of view. I am extremely concerned; like many members, I can tell from my constituency surgery caseload that the impact of many of the reforms is extremely serious and worrying, particularly for the disabled community. I am genuinely concerned about the impact of those benefits reforms on the living standards and quality of life of disabled people in the future.

18 December 2012

(S4T-00181) Severe Weather (Sea Defences)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Other members have referred to effects on vulnerable communities. In Peterhead in my constituency we have the world’s biggest offshore oil support base, which has been severely affected by the storms. That could have major economic impacts locally and more widely. What practical assistance can the Government provide that would be relevant to the situation in Peterhead?

Paul Wheelhouse: That issue was of some concern to the First Minister when we discussed the incident at the ministerial resilience room meeting on Sunday. Through agencies including Scottish Enterprise we are able to work with local businesses to assist where possible when they have difficulty in implementing their disaster recovery plans and other measures.

Clearly, in an instance such as that in Peterhead, assistance in terms of providing alternative accommodation is absolutely crucial at this time, to ensure that business can continue to function. I will undertake to have dialogue with Stewart Stevenson about what we can do in that regard.

13 December 2012

(S4O-01615) Scottish Budget (Autumn Statement)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

8. To ask the Scottish Government what impact the chancellor’s autumn statement will have on the Scottish budget. (S4O-01615)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth (John Swinney): The Scottish Government will receive £394 million in capital consequentials between 2012-13 and 2014-15 as a result of the autumn statement. However, that will be partially offset by a reduction in the resource departmental expenditure limit of £63.5 million.

The Scottish Government has been calling on the chancellor to boost capital spending for a number of years. The consequentials announced in the autumn statement are therefore welcome. However, it is important to note that even with that additional funding, our capital budget still faces a 26 per cent real-terms cut.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the cabinet secretary aware that the autumn statement shows that over the next five years, the United Kingdom Government plans to increase tax take by reducing tax avoidance to the sum of about £270 million a year? If Scotland had full control over the taxation system, how would that help us to manage our Scottish budget?

John Swinney: Fundamentally, any tax system must deal effectively and comprehensively with any dangers of tax avoidance. That would, without doubt, be a core requirement of the taxation system of an independent Scotland. Indeed, it is a core element of the consultation document that I published earlier this week on tax management issues and the increased responsibilities that will come to the Parliament in relation to stamp duty, landfill tax and the Scottish rate of income tax from 2015 onwards. A rigorous regime for tackling tax avoidance will be at the heart of the measures that we take forward.

4 December 2012

European Union Fisheries Negotiations

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a statement by Richard Lochhead on the annual European Union fisheries negotiations. I note that Claire Baker and Jamie McGrigor, the two major Opposition party spokespeople, are not in the chamber; notwithstanding, I call Richard Lochhead. Mr Lochhead, you have 13 minutes.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Will the cabinet secretary confirm what role the Scottish Government has had in seeking to resolve the mackerel dispute with the Faroe Islands and Iceland?

Richard Lochhead: That is a huge issue for thousands of families in Scotland whose livelihoods depend on Scotland’s most valuable fish stock, mackerel. Therefore, it is very frustrating that the international negotiating framework has virtually broken down, meaning that the previous 10-year agreement has not been replaced. Instead, we are seeing unilateral quotas being fished by Iceland and the Faroe Islands. I continue to urge those countries to come back to the table so that we can have a sensible negotiation.

If we have to go down the road of sanctions, we want those to be in place as soon as possible in order to show those countries that we mean business. It is in no one’s interest—not the interests of the fishing communities in those countries or the interests of our countries—if the stock is fished out and all our respective industries lose thousands of livelihoods. It is really important that we all get back around the table as soon as possible. As I said previously—I say it again to Stewart Stevenson because I know that it is an important issue in his constituency—we are now trying to think out of the box to find new ways that could lead to a breakthrough in the international negotiations.

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