The Scottish Liberal Democrats will today (Wednesday 21st) urge the Scottish Government to commit to a budget of opportunity as it sets out its stall for the year ahead.
In a letter sent to Deputy First Minister John Swinney in advance of today's statement, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie put NHS spending, mental health, childcare and colleges at the heart of his calls for a stronger economy and a fairer society.
Scottish Liberal Democrat proposals for the Scottish Government 2014-15 Budget include:
· Emergency funding for our NHS to match the increase in spending in England
· Equal treatment of mental and physical health to increase opportunity
· Extending free childcare provision to more two year olds – the best educational investment
· Fairer funding for colleges to make up for the significant cuts in previous years
· Raise the threshold for the repayment of student loans to give a better deal for students
Extracts from Willie Rennie’s letter as follows:
“One aspect of that will be to continue our argument in favour of better provision for the treatment of those suffering from mental ill health. In England, mental illness has now been placed on the same statutory basis as physical illness. We hope to persuade the Scottish Government to legislate in a similar way. While that is happening we argue for the expansion in the diagnosis and treatment for those with mental illness. You will have seen that this has become a severe problem for young people who require urgent help and find that there is often no appropriate provision to meet their needs. This has to change.
“You have received consequentials for the NHS from an increase in resources to the NHS in England, which were successfully argued for by my colleagues in Westminster. I also believe that the Scottish Government is likely to get further new money paid to it through the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme. The UK Government expects the sums raised from that to increase from £454m in 2014-15 to £995m in 2015-16.
The opportunity should be considered, for instance, to use these additional resources to provide access to more psychological therapies – including ‘talking therapies’ - and other interventions to treat mental illness. You will know the enormous costs of medicines used to help patients. Psychological therapies have proved to be effective treatment. They help people get back into work and to achieve their potential.”
“For the coming year we would also hope to persuade you to increase free childcare provision for two year olds. The proportion of youngsters in Scotland who benefit from this still lags some way behind similar provision in England. Without the steps we jointly agreed last year, the provision in Scotland would have remained negligible. The opportunity exists to enshrine that consensus and expand provision. It is in the best interests of a fairer society for us to ensure that children from all backgrounds get the best start in life. That means taking seriously the attainment gap that blights the futures of children from poorer backgrounds and which can be tackled by early, high quality, childcare provision.
“My colleagues remain concerned that the college sector in Scotland still struggles to maintain services. Its budget has still not recovered from the hit it took in your Budget Act a few years ago. College places are still being lost. Indeed, in an area I know well, Fife College provision at the Elmwood Campus is being earmarked for closure.
"For higher education students, we think the opportunity exists to help graduates by increasing the threshold for student loan repayments. Liam McArthur has discussed this point at the Education Committee. The Scottish Government has substantial Resource Accounting provision to provide for the future costs of student loans. This support has been subject to the Barnett Formula and so reflects the more generous starting threshold in place for graduates in England.”