Opposition MSPs Want More Time To Check Spending Plans

4 October 2016, 09:21 | Updated: 4 October 2016, 10:12

The Scottish Government will face calls today to give Holyrood a better chance to scrutinise its budget.

Opposition MSPs have backed a motion urging ministers to present "scenario plans'' before the end of the Scottish Parliament's October recess.

The motion has been lodged by Greens finance spokesman Patrick Harvie ahead of a Finance Committee debate today which will look at the Government's timetable for the 2017/18 draft budget.

The draft budget is normally published in September but is being delayed until December, prompting fears MSPs will not have enough time to examine it properly.

Mr Harvie's motion has the support of 64 opposition MSPs, meaning that a majority of Parliament has backed the call for the Government to act.

The Finance Committee recently wrote to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, stating that his decision not to publish budget scenario plans was unacceptable, Mr Harvie said.

Without such plans it was likely that Holyrood committees would only have two meetings to try to examine the draft 2017/18 budget, listen to the views of witnesses and hold the Government to account, he added.

"The Finance Committee and all opposition parties understand the Government's difficulty, as it waits for the UK's autumn budget statement and the Chancellor's 'fiscal reset','' Mr Harvie said.

"We have gone to great lengths to give the Government other options, including publishing scenario plans. We were pleased at Derek Mackay's commitment to do that and the reversal of that position is clearly unacceptable.

"The public expects MSPs to scrutinise the Scottish Government's spending plans. If ministers stick to their timetable of only publishing a draft budget just before Christmas, we will be prevented from serving the public properly.

"MSPs on the Finance Committee and across the chamber are clear that for Parliamentary scrutiny to be meaningful we need more opportunity to question the Government's budget priorities.''

Scottish Labour's business manager James Kelly said: "The SNP needs to show some humility and accept that their plan to avoid budget scrutiny is unacceptable and now untenable.

"This will be the most important budget delivered by the most powerful Scottish Parliament to date. It needs as much scrutiny as possible but so far the SNP has not been willing to offer even ballpark figures. That isn't good enough.''

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Following the Brexit vote and the Chancellor's announcement that he will reset the UK Government's financial plans, as well as the impact that will have on the forecasts we rely on to set the overall size of the Scottish budget, it is only right that the Scottish Government waits for clarity on how much money we will have available to fund next year's budget.

"We welcome the agreement of the Finance Committee to the budget timetable we have proposed and will be making available as much information as we can to support budget scrutiny.''