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Scottish Budget Bill passed

Funding for the initial stages of work on the new Forth Crossing has been approved by the Scottish Parliament after it passed the government’s budget bill last night.

The budget for next year that was proposed by Finance Secretary John Swinney also progresses a number of other major transport projects, with a capital value of £1bn, including the Borders railway project, upgrade of the M8 Baillieston to Newhouse, M74 Raith Junction and M8, M73 and M74 network improvements and the new Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route.

These form part of a new £2.5bn of non-profit distributing private finance schemes, which will be delivered by the Scottish Futures Trust quango in partnership with the Scottish Government, local government, NHS boards and other public bodies.

However, both the new Forth crossing and the new South Glasgow Hospitals will be delivered through traditional capital funding.

The budget, which will apply from April, will deliver the highest ever number of modern apprenticeships in Scotland.

It also provides for an increase in Scottish Enterprise funding for the Urban Regeneration Companies to £12.5M in 2011-12.

Swinney said: “In the face of a £1.3bn cut in public spending imposed on Scotland by the UK government, this is a Budget that boosts economic growth and protects our vital frontline services.

“We are doing everything possible for young people and the budget will now support 25,000 modern apprenticeships, the highest ever number in Scotland, giving young people new skills to enter the workforce. It is a budget which supports business growth, including a new £10M scheme to support new jobs in small businesses and continuing the Small Business Bonus Scheme, as part of a package of business reliefs worth £2.4bn over five years. I am also in active discussions with the third sector about establishing an initiative to create employment opportunities for unemployed young people.

“We are taking forward strategic infrastructure commitments, such as the new Forth Crossing, the New South Glasgow Hospitals Project and the school building programme, and we are protecting local government’s share of the capital budget. A programme of infrastructure investment worth £2.5bn in health, education and strategic transport projects will be delivered through the non profit distributing model, helping to maintain construction jobs over the medium term despite the severe cuts that have been made to our capital budget by Westminster,” he added.

The bill was approved by 79 votes to 48, after Swinney provided £26M of funding for priorities of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of parliament. The only independent MSP, Margo MacDonald, also voted for the bill, with only the Scottish Greens and Labour voting against.

The Rail Freight Group has welcomed the Scottish Government’s decision to reprieve the threatened Freight Facilities Grant scheme in the budget, which has taken 33 million lorry miles off Scottish roads since 1997.

The group, which represents users and suppliers of rail freight services throughout Britain, said the decision taken yesterday to retain the scheme in the new Scottish Budget will be “good for the environment and good for Scotland’s economy”, and could now see tens of thousands of lorries removed from Scotland’s roads.

The Rail Freight Group Scottish representative David Spaven said: “This is a great decision, and is tribute to the cross-party support for retaining an unsung but very successful scheme. I would like to give thanks to the Scottish Government and to all others involved, including the Parliament’s Transport, Infrastructure & Climate Change Committee, and to Cathy Jamieson MSP for leading the helpful debate on the grant in Parliament on 13 January.

“Keeping the Freight Facilities Grants will mean not only relief for communities the length and breadth of Scotland – including the Highlands, Perthshire, Fife, Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire – but also support for economic development through providing a safe, sustainable and resilient alternative to road haulage.”

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