Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has criticised the UK Government for cancelling its Budget, insisting the move is “breathtaking in its disregard” for the devolved administrations.
Ms Forbes claimed the Scottish Government could now be forced to draw up its own budget plans with “both hands tied behind our back”, acting amid the coronavirus pandemic while not knowing how much cash it will receive from Westminster.
She said: “This is a Government that denies the Scottish Government the most basic of financial flexibilities, despite repeated requests, and now will scrap the main and only source of our funding figures to allow us to set next year’s budget.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has cancelled his Budget this year, instead promising to prioritise protecting millions of jobs in sectors struggling due to the health crisis.
He has come under increasing pressure from business groups, MPs and unions to extend the furlough scheme amid fears the latest coronavirus restrictions, such as the 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants, will damage the economy.
Mr Sunak is to make a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday to outline a “winter economy plan”.
Ms Forbes – who said she was not informed in advance of the move – said delaying the Budget is “extremely concerning news”.
She added: “Without the tax policy and other announcements of a UK Budget, the Scottish Budget for 2021-22, on which vital public services depend, would have to be based on provisional figures and be subject to much greater volatility.
“We faced the same situation this year when the UK Budget was not set until March. That delay was deeply problematic for our budget setting and scrutiny processes, but the situation we now face is further compounded by the financial challenges of Covid-19 and uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the threat of a potential no-deal or poor deal outcome at the end of this year.
“It is completely unacceptable that Scotland, and the other devolved administrations, are being put in this position once again.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, she added there had been “no courtesy” from the UK Treasury in “even telling us” about the change in plans.
The Finance Secretary said: “For context this matters because the majority of our funding, whether I like it or not, is determined by the block grant from the UK Government and our taxes always perform relative to the UK, so we need to know what they are going to do before we set our own Budget.
“This year’s Budget was severely delayed and that meant that we were forced to go before the UK Government, but the only evidence that we had for that was the Conservative Party manifesto from last December’s election, so to be expected to set a multibillion-pound budget for our NHS, our local government and setting tax rates for taxpayers with no information from the UK Government is why I’ve called this breathtaking in its disregard.”
She claimed the move shows Westminster “does not understand” the challenges faced by the devolved administrations.