Page last updated at 18:46 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Scottish budget approved by MSPs

John Swinney
Finance Secretary John Swinney won enough support to pass the budget

The Scottish budget has been passed at the second attempt, after opposition parties won concessions from ministers in return for their support.

Labour and the Lib Dems - who voted down the 33bn spending plans for the coming year a week ago - backed them this time, along with the Tories.

But the two Green MSPs, whose votes helped reject the spending plans last Wednesday, refused again to back them.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said the budget would deliver economic recovery.

Labour and the Lib Dems had previously said the spending plans would fail to help Scotland through the financial downturn.

We have demonstrated that, when necessary, government and opposition can find common ground
John Swinney
Scottish Finance Secretary

But the two parties agreed to support them, after ministers agreed to demands on increasing apprenticeships and boosting the economy.

Mr Swinney told MSPs: "We have demonstrated we have an overwhelming will to take the correct action to support public services and the Scottish economy.

"We have demonstrated that, in the face of major challenges over the future of public spending, we can agree on a way ahead.

"We have demonstrated that, when necessary, government and opposition can find common ground."

In the wake of last week's budget defeat, Labour agreed to come on board after the minority SNP administration pledged to introduce almost 8,000 extra apprenticeships.

Mr Swinney said the 16m plan in 2009-10 would boost total apprenticeships to 18,500.

'Bafflement and intrigue'

The Liberal Democrats said they would vote for the budget after ministers agreed to take forward a strategy to boost the economy.

It includes SNP ministers making a submission to the Calman Commission - which is reviewing devolution - on borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament, as well as a finance sector jobs task force and a review of Scottish public spending.

Despite backing the budget, Labour finance spokesman Andy Kerr said his party would continue to hold the government to account.

"The budget does not answer all our ills and take on all these challenges we face," he said.

"Whilst we have recognised and welcomed the steps the Government has taken today, we can not kid ourselves into believing that as a result of our actions today our troubles are over."

Jeremy Purvis, the Liberal Democrat finance spokesman, welcomed another chance at negotiations, following the budget defeat.

Patrick Harvie

"After last Wednesday's vote, a result that most people in Scotland saw with a degree of bafflement and intrigue, the cabinet secretary's response does him credit," he said.

"He immediately signalled the need for open and genuine discussion with others to secure the budget's passage as soon as possible."

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald also voted for the budget bill.

But despite the government's offer of a 30m, targeted, home energy efficiency scheme, the Greens refused to support the budget.

Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said the initiative fell short of his party's proposed 100m-a-year free home insulation scheme.

Noting comments by Mr Kerr that Labour voted against the budget "more in sorrow than anger", Mr Harvie told parliament: "I have to admit that, for myself, there was a measure of both in last week's debate - and no small measure either."

The Tories' Derek Brownlee said his party had always approached the budget in a "constructive and responsible manner", saying the plans would bring forward measures such as more police, tax cuts for small businesses and a 60m town centre regeneration scheme.

He added: "At Westminster, the defeat of a budget would bring down the government. At Holyrood, it seems, it brings down the opposition - at least, some of them."

Earlier, MSPs backed emergency measures allowing all three scrutiny stages of the Budget Bill - which was passed by 123 votes to two - to be taken in a day.

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