This week I opened the debate in the Scottish Parliament on the Scottish Budget. Labour brought this debate to the parliament as we want to encourage wider discussion in the Parliament and across the country, and to build a consensus about the kind of public services that we want in Scotland and how they are to be paid for.
We will not face up to the big challenges in Scotland by cutting the budget for local public services by £327 million, as proposed by Derek Mackay in his draft budget.
At a time when too many of our public services are struggling to cope and some are veering towards crisis, Government should increase the tax take by asking people who can pay a bit more to do so. Alongside that, we must be more ambitious in driving our economy and increasing the tax take in the medium term by supporting more and more people into decent jobs.
As it stands, the budget does not and will not achieve those aims. If we are to succeed in tackling poverty, closing the attainment gap, developing high-quality local services and growing the economy across Scotland, we need to do government differently. The fact is that Scotland is one of the most centralised countries in the western world.
One-size-fits-all central control is not best for Scotland.
We want a new approach of government of equals, accountable to and driven by local communities in a wider partnership, which recognises the role of the third sector, business and industry, trade unions, civic society and local communities in facing up to the big challenges of 21st century Scotland.
Since 2010, 27,000 jobs have disappeared from local councils across Scotland.
The £327 million cut in this year’s budget will mean that more jobs will go and will lead to even greater pressure on staff and services that are already struggling to cope. Today, Labour wants to put forward an alternative. We are asking Derek Mackay to amend his draft budget and put 1p on the basic rate of taxation in order to raise an additional amount of nearly £500 million to invest directly into local public services.