A BUDGET break for Scotland’s police and fire services and changes to the controversial universal credit benefit are simply not enough according to Inverclyde’s MP.

Ronnie Cowan welcomed Chancellor Philip Hammond’s announcement yesterday that £35 million of VAT paid by the emergency services each year is to be scrapped.

The SNP MP also reacted positively to a cut in the number of weeks UC claimants will have to wait — five rather than six — to receive their first payment.

But Mr Cowan says much more needs to be done to help people struggling to make ends meet.

He said: “I note the Government is starting to listen to my concerns and those from MPs across the chamber that universal credit needs drastic changes and welcome the removal of the seven-day grace period when initially applying for UC. However, more needs to be done to ensure the system is fair and supports my Inverclyde constituents who are claiming welfare support.”

The MP also criticised the Conservative government’s ongoing austerity programme, saying it will continue to hit his constituents hard.

Mr Cowan said: “It’s disappointing, yet unsurprising, that both the chancellor and the secretary of state for Scotland turned down invitations to visit Inverclyde to discuss the UK budget.

“This would have been an opportunity for them to see how their decisions to cut the Scottish block grant will have a direct impact on people’s lives here in Inverclyde.

“As we know, the biggest threat to Scotland’s economy is the continuation of austerity and a hard Tory Brexit. Scotland’s budget is expected to fall by 9.2 per cent — £2.9 billion — in real terms over the 10 years to 2019-20. These cuts from the UK Budget will have a detrimental effect on the most disadvantaged individuals in society and a large portion of my Inverclyde constituents.

“Nevertheless, Scotland has strong economy, and compares favourably with the UK and internationally on key economic indicators.”

Greenock & Inverclyde MSP Stuart McMillan also hailed the tax break for the police and fire services — in line with the rest of the UK — but criticised Mr Hammond for not refunding £140m of VAT paid since the organisations were set up four years ago.

He said: “The chancellor does not go nearly far enough — and his refusal to refund the money Scotland has already paid shows how little the Tories care about Inverclyde’s emergency services.

“If they finally agree that it is unfair for Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue to pay VAT, how can they possibly justify keeping the money they have already taken?”

Other budget announcements included a freeze in fuel duty and no increase in tax on beer, wine, spirits and most ciders by next April while tobacco and hand-rolling tobacco will rise by two and one per cent respectively.