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Finance Secretary accused of dishonesty in budget talks

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser says Derek Mackay has concealed additional Barnett consequentials from opposition parties.

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A budget deal between the Scottish Government and the Greens was agreed at the 11th hour (Andrew Cowan/PA)

A budget deal between the Scottish Government and the Greens was agreed at the 11th hour (Andrew Cowan/PA)

A budget deal between the Scottish Government and the Greens was agreed at the 11th hour (Andrew Cowan/PA)

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has been accused of concealing knowledge from opposition parties about what funding was available during budget discussions.

The budget was passed last week after a deal was reached between the Scottish Government and the Greens.

The agreement included an allocation of £90 million to local government – funded by an additional £148 million in Barnett consequentials.

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Murdo Fraser (Jane Barlow/PA)

Murdo Fraser (Jane Barlow/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Murdo Fraser (Jane Barlow/PA)

At Holyrood’s Finance Committee on Wednesday, Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said Mr Mackay had failed to inform opposition parties about the extra consequentials ahead of the Budget debate on Thursday last week.

The Finance Secretary responded that he had been fully transparent during the budget process and questioned how long the UK’s Treasury had known about the possibility of additional consequentials before they informed him.

Mr Mackay said he was first notified about the prospect of an extra £148 million on January 25.

He said his officials then sought clarifications from the Treasury on January 28  during the week of stage one of the budget.

Mr Mackay said further detail was required to know where resources were being taken from in order to fully understand where they could be allocated.

Mr Fraser asked: “Why did you not tell Parliament when you heard about the extra money, given that we were in a situation where there were ongoing budget discussions taking place with the Green Party and indeed, with other parties?

“Why did you not inform other parties, indeed Parliament as a whole, that you had these extra resources at your disposal?”

Mr Mackay replied: “That’s a ludicrous question as Murdo Fraser well knows because I update Parliament on all the expectations around transparency.”

“Officials look into the detail of the Barnett consequentials, that’s what they did to ensure that we were in a sound place to be able to allocate those resources in the fashion that I did.”

Mr Fraser suggested the Finance Secretary could have informed Parliament as soon as he became aware of the extra money, by using a written question to allow parties to be fully aware of the funding.

I'll ensure that Scotland gets every penny it's entitled toFinance Secretary Derek Mackay

The Scottish Conservative MSP asked: “Surely the opposition parties would be a bit more constructive in terms of the budget if you as cabinet secretary were not being essentially dishonest about the resources at your disposal by concealing from them and concealing from Parliament, the extent of the spending envelope that might be available?

“This is a Government that is anything but transparent. It is a Government which is concealing from parliament and concealing from those who are, in good faith, trying to negotiate the budget, the facts of the availability of funds to this government that might be able to be spent on the things that matter to everybody.”

Mr Mackay said: “I could equally throw back the question – for how long did the Treasury know about the consequentials that the Scottish Government was entitled to that that information wasn’t forwarded to me as part of the supplementary estimate of Barnett consequentials?

“I have no idea for how long they knew about these consequentials. When I was here at committee (on January 16) I was asked did I have any extra resources at my disposal as part of a budget deal? I answered honestly.

“That position changed as conseqentials came to light. They’ve been deployed in the fashion that I’ve quite clearly set out.

“I’ve been honest, transparent and clear throughout. I’ll ensure that Scotland gets every penny it’s entitled to and is spent to ensure this country has stability, stimulus and sustainability of our public services in the face of the chaos and adversity that’s coming from Westminster”.

The deal with the Greens was agreed with just minutes to spare before MSPs debated the spending plans in Parliament.

Speaking at the committee, Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie urged an end to last-minute talks to prevent agreements from having to be rushed through.

He called for a commitment from Mr Mackay so that talks on local government funding could take place at an earlier stage – suggesting at the end of summer recess.

Mr Mackay agreed discussions could take place at an earlier stage as part of the local governance review.

PA