As Scotland savoured its extra bank holiday on the 2nd January and the hoover of time sucked up the last pine needle of recess, by Tuesday it was time to abandon daytime pyjama-wearing and get suited and booted for the return of parliamentary business.
No gentle reintroduction for Finance Secretary Derek Mackay though as he seeks to get a Budget Bill through Parliament by the end of February. He spent Wednesday facing questions on proposed revenue allocations from the Finance & Constitution Committee with the prospect of doing it all again this coming Monday for the expenditure side. Having survived an intensive bout of questioning, he then receives broadcast confirmation that the Scottish Greens are not minded to support the proposals unless some compromises are made. Tweaks on tax, specifically a reduction in the threshold at which the higher rate kicks in, are top of Patrick Harvie’s Budget wish list, but discussions are also ongoing with Willie Rennie’s LibDems who also have the votes to assist, whether by voting with the SNP or more likely abstaining.
By Thursday, poor Derek was secretly hoping that the headlines alluding to “Revolting Councils” were advertising the town hall touring version of Horrible Histories, but unfortunately not. Joining the brakes-on-the-budget bandwagon, four local authorities (North Lanarkshire Council, North Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and Inverclyde) announced they would not be complying with the Scottish Government’s 20th January deadline for agreeing next year’s funding settlement. In doing this, the councils are going toe-to-toe with the Finance Secretary, who has already warned that failure to agree the offer will result in “a revised, and inevitably less favourable, offer” being made. But with a minority Scottish Government still negotiating over votes and with budget consideration still going through the formal parliamentary process, the cries of “democratic process” will have some claim and quite possibly some leverage.
Consultation on planning
Swinging back onto the front foot, the Scottish Government has opened its consultation of the future of the Scottish planning system, which runs until the 4th April. A number of proposals are set out, based on the recent review of the system, which are intended to deliver economic growth, increase housebuilding and a higher level of community involvement. Recommendations include zoning more land for housing, removing the requirement to apply for permission for more types of development and promoting self-build.
Labour’s local government manifesto published
With a lot to lose in May, Scottish Labour decided to be first out the traps this week with their manifesto for the local elections. Launching, Our Vision for Local Government, Deputy Leader Alex Rowley issued a plea for further devolution of power and resources to communities and restated the call for an additional 1p on the basic rate of taxation. Scottish Labour are pledging the scrapping of the council tax and introduction of both a tourist tax and a land value tax to drive economic activity and development. Scottish Conservatives branded the plans for a tourist tax as “suicidal”.
Scottish Conservatives publish healthy lifestyle strategy
The Scottish Conservatives have published their healthy lifestyle strategy, setting out their long-term plan to reduce health inequality. The importance of physical activity was highlighted but the report also looks more broadly at topics like the role of procurement and local produce. The report welcomes plans to expand childcare hours and calls for creation of an independent inspection regime for hospital food standards, an audit of out-of-hours use of school facilities and a sporting access fund.
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