MSPs To Approve Spending Plans

4 February 2015, 07:08 | Updated: 4 February 2015, 07:09

Further measures to tackle inequality and boost Scotland's economy will be unveiled by the Deputy First Minister as Holyrood debates next year's budget.

MSPs are expected to grant final approval to John Swinney's spending plans for 2015-16 - which will see NHS funding rise to more than £12 billion for the first time.

Mr Swinney said his budget is "focused on tackling inequality, investing in our economy and protecting and reforming our public services''.

He added that he looks forward to outlining the ``further steps the Scottish Government will take to tackle inequality and boost the economy''.

The Scottish Government has already put forward plans to spend £4.5 billion on infrastructure investment in 2015-16.

Investment of more than £390 million should provide 6,000 new affordable homes, while more than £300 million is to be spent extending free childcare to all three and four-year-olds and some vulnerable two-year-olds.

In addition, £81 million has been set aside to mitigate against changes to housing benefit which have been branded the "bedroom tax'', with further money being made available to allow local authorities to continue the council tax freeze.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie is pressing the Scottish Government to increase childcare funding further, saying there is a "damaging gap'' between provision north and south of the border, resulting in 8,000 two-year-olds missing out.

Mr Rennie said: "Scottish Liberal Democrats have campaigned with vigour for a fairer package of childcare. We know it is essential to our ambitions to create a fairer society.

"We have heard every excuse under the sun from SNP ministers. I want John Swinney to back our costed and reasonable plans which would enable more children to get on in life.''

But Mr Swinney insisted his spending plans are "focused on tackling inequality, investing in our economy and protecting and reforming our public services''.

The Deputy First Minister said: "It is well understood that a strong economy is essential to building a fair and wealthy society. However, the reverse is also true. A society that is fair and equitable underpins a strong economy.

"The challenge we face is not simply returning to pre-recession levels of growth, but tackling the underlying challenges in our economy and labour market, boosting competitiveness and reducing inequality.

"The Scottish Government's approach will continue to be based on the principle that delivering sustainable economic growth and addressing long-standing inequalities are reinforcing - and not competing - objectives.

"Promoting a fairer, more balanced model of growth and creating economic opportunity across society as a whole are key objectives of this Government.''