'IN Parliament, this week attention will turn to the Scottish budget as the Government publishes its draft budget package. Normally we would have had a UK Government budget so would know what its implications are for Scotland but this year the new Tory Government has decided it will not publish its budget till March.

This creates a number of issues around the lack of time for scrutiny but also further uncertainty about the final settlement and in particular, for local councils who have endured the brunt of the cuts.

Back during the election campaign in December the Tories said they would end austerity so I had thought that the pressure on councils would be eased a bit this year, but I am afraid it looks like they were lying as last week the Chancellor said all Government departments would have to come up with cuts.

The Scottish Government now has significantly more powers and over the last three years, the Scottish Government has used its new income tax powers to raise additional revenues. However, weaker growth in the Scottish tax base has resulted in less being raised than anticipated.

Therefore, with the new powers we are seeing a growing divergence between Scottish and UK income tax policies but the weaker growth in the Scottish tax base means we are not seeing the benefits of paying more.

The Scottish Government has protected health spending which was up in real terms by 5.1% per year from 2016. Local councils have, however, seen real reductions in their budgets and have taken a disproportionate level of the cuts. Although extra money has gone into health, it has not then followed into community care and at the same time the councils have struggled to meet their share of the rising demands placed on social care. This is why I continue to push for a major review around the responsibilities and accountabilities of health and social care.

I will put more information on the budget up on my web page www.alexrowley.org following its publication next week. But, it is clear that council services are buckling under the pressure of continued cuts, we must invest in people through skills and jobs to address the weak Scottish tax base and we must address the issues in health and social care. I totally understand the pressure Fife Council is under but I would say they must not cut any more money from our school budgets'.