Questions were opened by the Scottish Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson, who asked whether the First Minister believed that having higher rates of tax in Scotland sets a “dangerous precedent” for the prospects of economic growth.
Nicola Sturgeon said that she has been very clear that the Government will not increase income tax rates, but that given the pressure on public services as a result of Tory austerity, it would be wrong to cut taxes for the top 10 per cent of income earners.
Ruth Davidson responded by pointing out that the Scottish National Party had previously argued that lower taxes would “send the message that Scotland is open for business.” She argued that Ms Sturgeon’s current stance on raising business tax stands in direct opposition to her previous argument and will send the wrong message to businesses.
Ms Sturgeon agreed that competitive business taxes are important, and said that this is the reason Scotland has the most competitive business rates regime of any country in the United Kingdom and why the new Budget will lift 100,000 small businesses across Scotland out of business rates altogether.
Next, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale questioned how many more young people with a referral to mental health services have been rejected for treatment since she last brought the crisis to the attention of the Chamber in September?
The First Minister replied that the Scottish Government is continuing to make improving mental health services a priority, and that despite a rising demand for such services, waiting times have been reducing. She accepted that more work needs to be done to improve services further.
Ms. Dugdale pointed out that since September, a further 1,600 young people have been rejected for mental health treatment, taking the total to 10,500 cases overall. She asked when Scotland would see action instead of “warm words”.
Ms. Sturgeon replied by reminding Ms. Dugdale that the plans she had brought forward are in the process of being looked at in the context of developing the mental health strategy. She also pointed out that statistics show the number of patients who have been seen by children and adolescent mental health services has increased by 21 per cent.
Patrick Harvey of the Scottish Green Party turned to the cuts facing local councils, warning of the harmful consequences that will result from the lack of funding.
Ms. Sturgeon replied by reassuring Mr Harvey that after negotiations, the draft Budget, due to be debated later in the day, will now include provisions to protect local authority funding. She said this should make it clear that those in the Chamber who are prepared to take part in constructive discussions will actually manage to achieve something on behalf of those whom they represent.
Questions from other Members included queries on the closure of job centres around Scotland, the number of refugees due to be admitted to Scotland, and the success of Police Scotland.