Lib Dem Scottish and London budget news

by Stephen Tall on February 3, 2009

Okay, okay I admit it – that title isn’t likely to entice in hordes of readers. But it is kinda important, so read on…

In Scotland:

The SNP will be able to pass its budget, second time around, thanks to the support of the Lib Dems. As the BBC reports:

In return for the party’s backing, ministers have agreed to take forward a strategy for boosting the economy. … The agreement was reached after Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens combined to vote down the budget in parliament last week, saying it would fail to help the Scottish economy through the current tough times.

Ministers agreed to Lib Dem demands to make a submission to the Calman Commission on borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament. The SNP has been highly critical of the commission, which is reviewing devolution 10 years on, because it has ruled out looking at independence. The government also backed Lib Dem calls for a finance sector jobs task force and a review of Scottish public spending. And ministers made a commitment to commission new school building projects this year, under its Scottish Futures Trust alternative to PPP/PFI funding. …

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott said: “We have a package for the long-term that can help tackle the economic difficulties the country is in. It’s about building the new schools we need in Scotland, it’s about helping local government and it’s about making sure we can fund, in new ways, the [new] Forth Road Bridge and make sure no transport projects are under threat.”

Tavish and the Scottish Lib Dems seem to me (from my English viewpoint) to have played a tactical blinder, sticking by their principles in opposing the SNP’s budget, and then extracting the best possible deal in order to deliver a majority budget. In doing so, they have put both the Tories (who conceded their bargaining power too cheaply when voting with the SNP first time round) and Labour (who’ve been much less keen to talk) in the shade.

In London:

Meanwhile in the English capital, Lib Dem London Assembly leader Mike Tuffrey has put Tory Mayor Boris Johnson’s budget under scrutiny over at the Mayorwatch blog to find out if he’s meeting the real needs of Londoners. You can read the article in full here, but here’s an excerpt:

Having challenged and opposed Ken Livingstone over his excessive rises in the council tax – where over eight years he more than doubled his bill for Londoners – we have no hesitation in supporting a freeze for this year. In fact on this issue it seems everyone is in agreement, except for the Greens who this year argued for a higher council tax bill.

Yet agreement with the Mayor over a council tax freeze does not mean Liberal Democrats agree with many of the Mayor’s priorities as set out in his budget.

Looked as a whole I think the Mayor’s budget should be tested against two basic criteria. Firstly, as the recession really starts to bite, is the Mayor doing enough to help people facing real financial problems? Secondly, does the Mayor’s budget address the serious environmental issues facing the capital, most notably that 1,000 Londoners die prematurely each year from the city’s appalling air quality?

Set against both these tests the Mayor’s budget clearly falls short.

You can find out about the London Lib Dems’ budget proposals at their website www.glalibdems.org.uk. Mike concludes:

As a whole the Liberal Democrat budget policies are realistic and ambitious for London. Most significantly, unlike the Mayor’s proposed budget they start to address the real issues facing London.