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Block Grant

Volume 669: debated on Wednesday 8 January 2020

Ministers and officials have regular discussions with the Scottish Government on many issues, including the block grant. The latest spending round gave the biggest funding settlement for the Scottish Government in a decade, with an extra £1.2 billion to help grow the economy and invest in our vital public services across Scotland.

Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that, at the upcoming Budget, Scotland will receive its fair share of funding through the Barnett formula and, further, that the commitments made by the previous Government on the eight city and regional deals will be honoured in full?

I can reassure my right hon. Friend that Scotland will receive fair funding thanks to the block grant and the Barnett formula, and that will continue. On city and growth deals, we are already investing £1.4 billion across Scotland and we are committed to a deal in every part of the country, including in my own area of Moray, where we agreed to £32.5 million from the UK Government matched by the Scottish Government, making this the highest funded growth deal per head of population anywhere in the country. That is a sign to constituents across Scotland of what Scotland’s two Governments can do when they work together.

First, I want to commend the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) did in this role before me. He did a sterling job and could not have set a better example. Yesterday, my colleagues asked the Chancellor for an explanation as to why the UK is delaying its Budget until 11 March, despite the fact that the Scottish Government must pass their budget by 1 April and that 11 March is the legal deadline by which Scottish councils must set their budgets and their council tax levels. No explanation was given yesterday and I doubt I will get one now, so instead I want to ask: if and when did the Secretary of State raise this issue with the Cabinet? If he did raise it, what answers was he given?

Let me begin by welcoming the hon. Lady to her position as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, following the reshuffle by the Scottish National party recently, and by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East for the work he did in that role previously to her. The Chancellor made it clear to the new SNP shadow Chancellor that there is nothing to prevent the Scottish Government from setting their budget ahead of the UK Government setting theirs, and the UK Government have already shared estimates of tax and welfare block grant adjustments, based on the latest Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts in December, to aid the Scottish Government in these preparations.

It is ridiculous for the Scottish Parliament to be expected to know what money it is going to be getting, given that the UK Government have not told it yet; I am very quickly realising why many believe that this Department is utterly obsolete. Scotland is needing to wait on this place getting its act together and to wait for permission to be told what we can spend money on. Will the Minister at least concede that none of this would be happening if Scotland instead had the full fiscal powers of an independent and competent nation, in order to let us get on with the job properly?

The hon. Lady is asking for “us” to be allowed to get on with the job, but the “us” is the SNP Scottish Government in Holyrood, who are letting down our health service and education service, and overseeing cuts to local government, which are affecting every local authority in Scotland. Perhaps this is not about the amount of money that Scotland gets from this UK Government, which is the highest level in a decade, but about the way it is spent—or, in many cases, misspent—by the Scottish Government in Holyrood.

Those answers are simply not good enough. The Scottish Government in Holyrood and the Scottish local authorities are entitled to know what the block grant is so that they can plan their future. Anybody who has tried to set a budget dependent on UK central Government funding knows that delay in this makes it almost impossible to manage. When will the Scottish Government be given certainty about what that block grant is, so that they can begin to plan their future?

I hope that some certainty was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, when he gave the commitment and the understanding that there is nothing to prevent the Scottish Parliament from passing a budget before the UK Parliament does. We shared the estimates on tax and the welfare block grant with the Scottish Government in December last year, and we will continue to engage with them going forward.

Again, it is simply not good enough. Not only can the Scottish Government not set a budget, but Scottish councils cannot. That affects non-governmental organisations, businesses and services. What the Minister is doing is a measure of incompetence. When will the Secretary of State say to the Chancellor that he has to do more? There must be certainty; we cannot wait till March.

As the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes his seat, I am sure he is listening to these discussions, and he answered the points made by the SNP representative yesterday. Before I first entered this place, I was a local councillor for 10 years on Moray Council, so I know the council’s important role in setting its budget. In recent years, that has been made more difficult by the greater cuts the council has received from the SNP Scottish Government in Holyrood, which are affecting local services in Moray and throughout Scotland.