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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 January 2008, 19:55 GMT
Budget call for more new police
Pound coin

MSPs have urged the Scottish Government to amend its budget to recruit more police officers and speed up business rate cuts.

The calls, from Holyrood's Finance Committee, could pave the way for a deal to endorse the SNP's budget plans.

Ministers will take on 500 more police, but have been accused of backtracking on a Scottish election pledge of 1,000 more officers.

The minority administration's plans still need parliamentary approval.

Following detailed scrutiny of the budget, the committee urged ministers to bring forward proposals on increasing police recruitment "beyond that already planned" and consider bigger-than-planned reductions in business rates.

Budget 'raid'

The ideas were put forward by the Tories and backed by SNP members - but Finance Secretary John Swinney warned that funding increases would have to be accounted for by changes elsewhere.

If ministers agree, it could mean the Conservatives backing the overall budget.

However, Labour, whose proposals for changes to the budget were blocked by other parties, accused the Tories of selling out, while the Liberal Democrats criticised a lack of detail in the 33bn annual budget plans.

Finance committee convener, Nationalist MSP Andrew Welsh, said cuts in ring-fencing - allowing councils to spend more money as they saw fit - had to be properly monitored.

He also said the committee would work with the Scottish Government to improve the level of information available on a concordat deal struck with local authorities.

Labour finance spokesman Iain Gray blamed the fate of his party's proposals on a "right-wing alliance" between the SNP and the Conservatives, adding: "Finance Secretary John Swinney must be laughing at how easily the Tories were bought."

Tavish Scott, the Lib Dem finance spokesman said the problem remained that the government's budget proposals did not add up.

"That's why they are now back-tracking and breaking promise after promise."

Mr Swinney said the government would respond to the committee report in due course, adding: "We are absolutely clear that this budget is designed to benefit all of Scotland through increased, sustainable economic growth and measures to strengthen Scottish society."

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