I have regular discussions with my ministerial colleagues and Scottish Government Ministers on economic and fiscal matters. The Treasury has made an unprecedented up-front guarantee to the devolved Administrations, guaranteeing that Scotland will receive at least £6.5 billion in additional funding this year on top of its Budget 2020 funding.
Last year’s delay to the UK Budget saw knock-on delays in the Scottish Government and local government being able to set their own budgets, with the result that many local authorities were forced to separate setting their council tax rate from settling their revenue budgets. Given this year’s delay, which has united devolved Finance Ministers in condemnation across these islands, would the Minister like to take this opportunity to apologise for the further uncertainty and risk that his Government are about to inflict on local and national Government in Scotland?
First, I repeat the point made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we have heard this “cry wolf” story before from the Scottish Government. The fact of the matter is that, as well as the guaranteed minimum funding for this year, the Chancellor has asked the Office for Budget Responsibility to provide forecasts next month. Together with the spending review, which will happen this autumn, that will give the Scottish Government plenty of certainty in setting their budgets.
This is just the disrespect agenda in action. The Tories never really wanted devolution anyway, and now they do not really give a stuff about whether or not it works properly. If they do not think that people in Scotland should not be in control of their finances, why will they not give the Scottish Finance Minister the information she needs to be able to set the budget properly? If they will not give her the information she needs, why not just give her the power to set our budget properly, without any recourse to Westminster at all?
I shall make a number of points in response to that. First, the Scottish Finance Minister is very welcome to contact me and explain why she has underspent the budget every year since the SNP has been in control of the Scottish Government. I have already explained in reply to the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) that there will be plenty of information. The evidence is in the fact that this year we have guaranteed a minimum spend in addition to the usual budget of £6.5 billion. Only the separatists could call that a small amount of money.
The Scottish Government’s budget has been boosted by £6.5 billion to help to deal with the coronavirus. That is a true mark of the importance of the four nations working together. However, it was revealed last week by the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary that £500 million of that has yet to be allocated. Does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government should be prioritising that funding to those people most in need in Scotland just now?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it is not just last year: as I said earlier, in every single year since the separatists took control of the Scottish Government, they have underspent their budget. It may come as news to the House, but under the fiscal framework agreement, which was made between the Scottish Government and UK Government, underspends can be transferred between fiscal years.
This week is Challenge Poverty Week in Scotland. Statistics show that almost a fifth of people in Scotland are living in relative poverty after 10 years of a UK Conservative Government and 13 years of an SNP Government in Holyrood. This should bring shame on both parties. Councils are critical to looking after the most vulnerable in society, yet they have seen their budgets slashed in recent years. It is not just the Tories who enjoy cutting budgets. The SNP has disproportionately cut local government funding since 2013-14, taking almost £1 billion out of those budgets. Will the Minister press the Chancellor to consider the impact of his economic policies on poverty in Scotland, and while he is at it, in his conversations with Scottish Ministers, will he ask them to stop disproportionately cutting local government budgets in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. When we recover from the coronavirus period, we will, to coin a phrase, build back better. To that extent, I have involved the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland in my regular meetings with business groups and others in Scotland to ensure that all parts of Scotland can flourish once we emerge from this. He is also right to highlight the fact that the centralising separatist Government in Scotland suck powers and money from local authorities in Scotland. I have met representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and they are deeply concerned about this.
The UK Government’s decision to end the job retention scheme at the end of this month will throw tens of thousands of Scots into unemployment. What effect does the Minister think that will have on poverty levels in my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran and in Scotland as a whole?
The job retention scheme was the right intervention at the right time and has supported tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland, but across the world it is right that we move to more targeted measures of support. The job retention scheme was just one part of a whole suite of policies and support that we are putting in place and that will help to support Scottish businesses and employees in the months and years to come.