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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 18:52 GMT
Scots budget clears first hurdle
Finance Secretary John Swinney

The Scottish Government's 30bn budget plans have narrowly passed their first parliamentary hurdle despite Lib Dem and Labour efforts to scupper them.

The proposals were backed in principle by 64 votes to 62, with Tory support. The two Green MSPs chose to abstain.

Parliament also demanded that ministers try to find money for more police recruitment and speedier cuts in business rates.

The plans will now go forward to the next stage of scrutiny.

Finance Secretary John Swinney told parliament that no other Scottish government had ever had to deliver a budget under such "tight" Westminster spending constraints.

As it stands, this budget does not just compromise a long list of broken promises, it compromises the very promise of Scotland future
Iain Gray
Labour finance spokesman

"This is a budget that offers a co-ordinated programme to tackle the inequalities in Scottish society and to build up our communities, and to ensure that all Scots live safe from crime, disorder and danger," he said.

Mr Swinney warned there would be serious consequences if the plans were not supported in principle, adding: "Without the passage of this bill the financial provisions to support our essential public services will not be in place."

Labour claimed ministers had put the council tax freeze and business rate cuts for small firms ahead of everything else, while arguing that the budget fell short on social justice.

The party's finance spokesman, Iain Gray, said: "As it stands, this budget does not just compromise a long list of broken promises, it compromises the very promise of Scotland's future."

He added: "We have been accused of not trusting local government. That is not true, it is the Scottish Government we do not trust and we have plenty of reason not to trust them."

Conservative finance spokesman Derek Brownlee warned that his party's support at the first hurdle did not guarantee backing for the final bill.

'Less detail'

"We set out our approach before the budget was published, we have been consistent," he said.

"We have scrutinised, we have asked questions, we have proposed alternatives and we have focused on areas which we consider to be key."

Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott, a former deputy finance minister, said the budget plans had "potentially disastrous" implications for the economy, and expressed concerns on funding proposals for students, class sizes, health and enterprise.

He told MSPs: "The Liberal Democrats have made clear throughout this short, tight budget process our concerns - the most opaque budget since devolution, less detail than before, lacking clarity on key numbers, on indicators and on targets.

"A budget designed by government for ministerial diktat announcement, and spin, a budget that fails to meet the tests of modern Scotland."

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said he had concerns about the environmental impact of several transport projects which the budget would fund.

The budget plans will now go to Holyrood's finance committee for further scrutiny, before coming back before the parliament for a final, crunch vote.

Mr Swinney said he would look at "available options" for altering the proposals on police recruits and business rates - but has warned that spending increases in one area would mean cash being taken from another.

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