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Free bus travel for children likely as Highland MSPs deliver a 'transformational' Scottish budget but Labour slams the deal as 'kowtowing'

By Scott Maclennan

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Green MSP John Finnie.
Green MSP John Finnie.

Two Highland MSPs have been pivotal in securing a Scottish budget deal after a compromise was reached between the SNP government and the Greens.

The budget is being led through Holyrood by finance secretary Kate Forbes who is the Dingwall-based MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.

But to pass it into law the minority SNP government needed the support of at least one other party in the Scottish Parliament which in recent years meant the Greens.

That placed Highland regional MSP John Finnie squarely in the frontline negotiations with demands for free bus travel for those under the age of 18 and agreement was reached this afternoon.

Among the raft of changes are the delivery of a national concessionary travel scheme offering free bus travel for 18s and under which could be introduced as early as January 2021.

It appears former police officer Mr Finnie was instrumental in securing a critical investment in the police service of £60 million with £13 million of additional investment in frontline services and a further £5 million of additional capital investment – that is on top of the £42 million already committed.

There will also be £5 million to further develop options for enhanced rail services and £95 million more for local government.

Confirming the agreement, Miss Forbes said: “I am pleased to have reached an agreement to pass the Scottish budget and deliver certainty for communities, businesses and our vital public services.

“The Scottish Government had already backed Police Scotland with a budget increase of £42 million. We will now increase that support to £60 million overall with £50 million of investment for frontline services.

“And we will deliver in full the support Cosla and others have asked for with £95 million for local government. We have made significant investments to tackle the climate crisis, with funding for a green deal, low carbon travel and £1.8 billion of low carbon infrastructure.”

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant.

Rhoda Grant, the Scottish Labour finance spokeswoman, and another Highland MSP, slammed the deal between the parties saying: “It is deeply disappointing to see the Scottish Green Party yet again sell our local councils, our environment and, indeed, themselves, short yet again.

“By kowtowing to Kate Forbes, the Greens have given the green light to the deep cuts faced by local government and have entirely abandoned their call for an end to further infrastructure construction.

“Most galling of all is the Greens’ acceptance of a pale imitation of the call, led by Scottish Labour, for free bus travel for under-25s by supporting the SNP’s promise to merely investigate the possibility of free bus travel for those under 18.”

But a delighted Mr Finnie dismissed those claims, saying: “Scottish Greens have delivered a transformational change for public transport in Scotland that will benefit thousands of young people 18 and under and families across Scotland. In contrast Labour have delivered hee-haw.

“Since the 2016 election the Scottish Greens have pushed the Scottish Government to provide councils with a fairer share of funding. I’m delighted that this year Greens have been able to deliver £ 4.5 million more for Highland Council to help protect vital local services upon which my constituents depend.”

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