THIS week the Scottish Parliament debated stage one of the proposed 2018/19 Scottish Budget which Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP, pictured, brought to the chamber last month.

Although I summarised the budget in my column of December 18, I’d like to again emphasise and reassure my constituents that it will protect our public services, support low earners and unlock Scotland’s potential.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that the setting of this budget has taken place against the backdrop of tough economic and public expenditure conditions.

Over the decade between 2010/11 and 2019/20, Scotland’s discretionary budget allocation will be eight per cent lower in real terms — a £2.6bn decrease, which is roughly equivalent to the entire education budget this year. 

Although the chancellor claims that the recent UK budget delivered £2bn ‘extra’ for Scotland over the next few years, 55 per cent of this is in the form of financial transactions which must be repaid and cannot be spent on frontline services.

A decade of Westminster austerity has therefore left families in Scotland worse off and put enormous pressure on the Scottish budget. Despite this, the SNP has delivered for Scotland — with record spending on our NHS and investment to drive up standards in our schools. 

Through proposed changes to Scottish income tax, whereby 70 per cent of taxpayers will pay less tax next year, the Scottish Fiscal Commission has forecast an additional £164m being raised in 2018/19. 

Consequently, this progressive tax policy supports low and middle earners while managing to protect and invest in our public services.

For example, funding for frontline NHS boards will be increased by 3.7 per cent to over £350m, and investment in mental health services increased by £17m to £70.2m. Overall the budget delivers an additional £400m to our health service.

Tuesday’s news that 28 Inverclyde schools will be sharing a sum of £2.4m from the Pupil Equity Fund, which is being allocated to 2,387 schools as part of the Scottish Government’s £750m Attainment Scotland Fund for 2018/19, is proof of this SNP government’s commitment to improving our education system and investing in our children.

Every child deserves to reach their full potential, which is why the budget invests nearly £2.4bn in our colleges, universities, enterprise and skills bodies — including a real-terms increase for both college and higher education budgets. 

It was also announced earlier this week that over £148m has been granted to households that are struggling since 2013 through the Scottish Welfare Fund. 

Inverclyde has received over £3.2m which provided 8,970 crisis grants, showing that this SNP Scottish Government is determined to assist those most in need. 

Therefore, the actions outlined in this year’s Scottish budget will make Scotland the fairest taxed part of the UK, with the best deal for taxpayers while simultaneously countering Tory cuts, investing in our NHS, protecting our public services and growing our economy. 

It supports the lowest earners, boosts education and health spending, and ultimately aims to make Scotland the best it can be.