Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Sunday, 13 September 2009 13:01 UK

Swinney confident of tax freeze

Finance Secretary John Swinney
John Swinney said there were difficult times ahead for public spending

The Scottish finance secretary has said he is "very confident" of freezing council tax for another year, despite concerns over spending cuts.

John Swinney also said his forthcoming budget for the year ahead would focus on protecting vital public services and boosting economic recovery.

He declined to comment on a fellow minister's claims there would be cuts across the whole public sector.

But he told BBC Scotland there were difficult years ahead for spending.

The Scottish Government, which is due to reveal its 2010-11 budget proposals in the next few days, warned it would have £500m less to spend, in the wake of the UK Government's efficiency drive.

I'd be very confident the council tax freeze could be achieved again
John Swinney
Scottish finance secretary

But Labour has insisted the Scottish budget will still rise by about £600m in 2009-10, an increase of about 1.3%.

Scottish Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing recently told parliament that forthcoming public spending would be the worst for decades, adding at the time: "All areas of the public sector will have less money to spend."

Speaking on BBC Scotland's Politics Show, Mr Swinney declined to comment directly on Mr Ewing's remarks, but did pledge the budget would protect services such as education and the NHS.

The finance secretary said: "There will be two principal areas of thinking behind the government's proposals - that is the protection of frontline services and supporting economic recovery."

He added: "I'd be very confident the council tax freeze could be achieved again."

Mr Swinney also urged opposition parties to support the minority government's budget proposals.

'Squeeze' benefits

The previous year's spending plans were rejected by Holyrood, before being approved on the second attempt, after talks with the other parties.

Meanwhile, the former chairman of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Sir John Arbuthnott, warned the health service and councils faced the biggest spending squeeze.

Sir John, who is currently reviewing local government in the west of Scotland, told the Politics Show: "We've invested hugely in these services, to the benefit of the citizen.

"Now, we've got to be absolutely sure that we squeeze the maximum benefit in terms of back office, support structures and infrastructure.

"If we can do that, I believe we can make significant savings and that will be a step towards protecting the front end of the delivery to citizens."



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