An erratic Scottish economy and down-graded growth forecasts for the UK set the scene for the Scottish Budget on Thursday. It needs, more than ever, to rise to the long-term challenge of investment in Scottish education for the good of the economy.
I want an education focus as never before. The government’s structural tinkering with education has stalled. The budget must get behind teachers, support classroom learning, and match the investment that has proved to increase attainment around the UK.
This autumn the Scottish Government u-turned on its previous objections to part-time college places. We need to get behind colleges to open up new economic opportunities for older workers changing careers and women returning to work.
There are concerns that SNP plans to expand early years provision are insufficient. They do not fully recognise the scale of the recruitment challenge and the buildings necessary to accommodate. We need to get this right because investing in early years provision is the best educational investment.
And the budget needs to tackle the woeful gap in the numbers of new mental health staff being trained. These are the people will transform the way we treat mental ill health. Their future work will help thousands more to get back to their jobs and their studies.
This is investment that is specific and targeted. Its aim is to grow long term economic prospects for Scotland. It is clear what we will get for the extra, modest 1p tax that is needed to pay for it. Unlike other proposals put forward this isn’t a super-complicated tax change that opens the door to ever higher taxes. It is limited and targeted.
Can this all be agreed by Parliament? Well the SNP start further back than we feared because they didn’t take our advice on investment in education last year. And ministers have to make sure they honour the will of Parliament expressed this week on the matter of fair support for the island ferries.
This will be a challenging budget but, as always, we will consider the proposals and how best to amend it over the next few weeks.