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Business backs package

Free bus travel allows SNP to reach budget deal with Greens

Kate Forbes

Kate Forbes: impressed

Free bus travel for under-19s and more money for local government look likely following an SNP-Green party budget deal.

New Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said free bus travel would be a “step change” in supporting young people and helping tackle climate change.

MSPs will deliver the first of three rounds of votes on the budget today and businesses are pleased that the deal will allow it to pass and provide some further certainty.

Ms Forbes, who was promoted to the job after impressing as stand-in for the disgraced Derek Mackay on budget day, has also eased business concerns with no changes to income tax rates.

She is expected to confirm the extension to concessionary travel from January 2021, with young people joining the over-60s in being eligible for free bus trips.

There is much within the Budget that retailers can get behind

– David Lonsdale, Scottish Retail Consortium

The deal with the Greens will also see an extra £95m for local authorities, £18m for the police and £45m to low carbon projects, including energy efficiency projects and active travel. There will be £5m to further develop options for enhanced rail services.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Firms will breathe a sigh of relief that MSPs are set to pass a Budget in a timely fashion. 

“Whilst not perfect, there is much within the Budget that retailers can get behind, in particular those aspects which keep down the cost of doing business and cost of living, during what remains a challenging time for the retail industry in Scotland.

“The below-inflation uplift in the poundage rate, the lifting of the threshold for the large business rates supplement, and the protection of ordinary taxpayers from rises in income tax rates, are very welcome and its encouraging that none of these measures have been diluted as a result of the accord with the Green Party.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the plan “still falls well short of what our economy and public services need”, with finance spokesman Donald Cameron saying Tory MSPs would not back the budget unless extra cash was added for drug rehabilitation services.

Scottish Labour, which had called for free bus travel for under-25s, said it was “deeply disappointing to see the Scottish Green Party yet again sell our local councils, our environment and indeed themselves short yet again”.

The Scottish Lib Dems said they would vote against the budget as long as the SNP continued to push for an independence referendum in 2020. Leader Willie Rennie said this was “stopping an awful lot else being agreed”.

Bus travel falls

The new concession comes as the number of people travelling by bus in Scotland has dropped by 10% in five years.

Data released by the Scottish government also showed that car travel increased, with a record three million cars now registered in Scotland.

Overall, the number of journeys made by public transport in Scotland fell by eight million – from 525m to 517m – over the past year.

Bus journeys accounted for 73% of all those taken by public transport.

Despite the drop in bus travel, ScotRail saw 13% more passenger journeys compared with five years ago.

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