'IN the last few weeks, I have taken forward a number of amendments to the Planning Bill at stage two of the proceedings, which is the part of the legislation process where the committee considers amendments and votes on them. With the support of Tory members, the SNP voted down my amendment aimed at ensuring that when new major developments are proposed, there must be an assessment of the impact on public services such as schools, health, leisure and so on.

I also brought forward amendments aimed at balancing the rights of people and communities to those of developers. Whilst the SNP members voted against, I got the support of Labour and the Greens with the Tories abstaining which means there is an opportunity to bring this back at stage three when the whole Parliament will vote on any final amendments and pass the Bill.

I believe the key issues around upfront funding for infrastructure are not being addressed in this Bill and that means we will not address one of the major blocks to new house building. The planning system as it currently works also gives far more rights and power to developers than it does local people and local communities. Whilst the SNP seem to be in complete denial about this I do think if all the other parties who acknowledge there is an issue can come together then we will be able to bring some balance between the rights of developers and the rights of people and communities.

The Scottish budget will become the major focus in the coming weeks and months and there are many pressures on public services. There are implications from the UK budget and decisions to be made on tax and spend. All tax payers will pay around £70 a year less as a result of the UK budget but in Scotland we also have flexibility and do not have to introduce the cut for higher rate tax payers where the point at which you pay the higher rate has been increased to £50,000. In Scotland the higher rate of 41% applies on earnings above £43,430. Given the pressure on public services I don’t think a tax cut for higher earners can be justified.

There is an additional £550 million through the Barnet consequentials for the NHS and it is important that health and social care is included in this. The weeks ahead will be interesting!'