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AN extra £1billion is to be invested in the Scottish Government’s scheme which funds major projects such as new hospitals, schools and transport infrastructure. Finance Secretary John Swinney said the money is being made available by extending the Non-Profit Distributing (NPD) method of funding. He also revealed an additional £31.2million will be invested over the next two years to help provide the infrastructure needed for an expansion of childcare.
This cash will go to local councils, along with an extra £12million towards the provision of free school meals for pupils in primaries one to three. A further £10.3million is going to the Scottish Government’s Help to Buy (Scotland) scheme – which assists those buying a new build home – in 2014-15, while another £12 million is to be invested in measures aimed at helping young people into work, such as the modern apprenticeship scheme.
In addition, £1million will be spent both this financial year and next financial year to help mitigate the impact of UK Government welfare reforms, Swinney told MSPs.
“We cannot undo all of the damage of welfare reform, the austerity agenda or the consequences of Westminster’s economic mismanagement,” he said. “The actions of this Government demonstrate however our determination to take the initiative where we can.” But the announcement of additional cash for childcare and free school meals sparked claims from the opposition that the Scottish Government had failed to fully fund these. Swinney’s budget for 2014-15 included funding to provide more free childcare places, along with money for free school meals
Labour finance spokesman Iain Gray said at the time the Finance Secretary had been “adamant then that he had fully funded those commitments”. But he said the allocation of additional money was “a straightforward admission that the commitments made in January were never fully funded”. Tories and Liberal Democrats also pressed Swinney on the cash for childcare. Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown said the Finance Secretary had “stated that we still don’t understand the capital cost implications of childcare expansion”.
Brown hit out: “This was a policy announced months ago, if they don’t understand the cost implications when does he envisage they will understand the capital implications of that policy?” Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “I want to bring childcare provision in line with that of England’s where 40 per cent of two-year-olds, beginning with those from poorer backgrounds, benefit from free childcare. “Two-year-olds cannot wait forever. John Swinney must tell parents when he will listen to my calls to build a fairer society and expand free childcare so that more children are given the best start in life.”
The new spending he announced will see the Scottish Government invest a total of £91million on capital infrastructure for the childcare and early learning sector. The extra cash for the Help to Buy scheme would take the overall investment in this to £235 million over three years. “I recognise the benefits of that scheme to the construction sector and wider economy and the important role it plays in supporting aspiring homeowners throughout Scotland,” Mr Swinney said.
Dumfries and Galloway Council will also get a one-off award of £500,000 to help it deal with the aftermath of recent flooding in the area. Swinney said: “I fully understand the extreme situation that the local area has faced since the turn of the year and this grant will allow the council to carry out the required essential repair works.”
He said overall the package of spending would “support jobs, skills development and children and families, adding to the decisive steps this Government is already taking to help Scotland’s economic recovery and build for the future”. Swinney stated: “Whenever there has been an opportunity to further invest in our economy, this Government has taken it. That is why I am pleased to announce a number of measures that will boost our economy, create jobs, support skills development and strengthen Scotland’s infrastructure. “We will develop plans to extend our current programme of NPD with an additional £1billion investment taking us through to 2019-20.
“This investment will build on the successes of the current programme, delivering colleges, schools, roads, hospitals and community health facilities across Scotland. It will also provide the construction sector with the long term certainty of a future pipeline of work. “We know that every additional £100million of construction activity is estimated to support over 1300 jobs. And then we get the long term benefits of using the asset.”
Swinney said First Minister Alex Salmond had announced free childcare was being extended to more of Scotland’s most vulnerable two-year-olds in January.
The Finance Secretary told MSPs: “This will benefit the children and also open up employment opportunities for their families by removing childcare as a barrier to work. “To ensure we have the physical capacity to meet our commitment to expand childcare, I have decided to allocate all the capital consequentials from the UK Budget to local government.” He also said the “recent discussions” with the local government body Cosla had persuaded him to allocate the extra £12 million to councils to help provide free school meals for younger pupils.
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