Scottish Budget Set To Be Passed

Finance Secretary John Swinney has urged MSPs to back his Budget, which now includes extra money to mitigate the effects of the ``bedroom tax''.

Holyrood will vote at the final stage of the Budget Bill, which also includes an increase in free childcare provision, extended free school meals and another council tax freeze. 

It also contains funding for infrastructure investment, affordable housing, colleges and an expansion of the Small Business Bonus Scheme. 

An extra £15 million has been found by the Scottish Government to help those affected by housing benefit reforms. 

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already written to the UK Government asking for rules to be changed so the money can be spent on discretionary housing payments (DHPs). 

DHPs would allow money to be paid directly to tenants affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy, and therefore are the best option, the Government says. 

Mr Swinney said: ``Parliament has the chance to come together and confirm that it rejects Westminster's bedroom tax - a tax which was imposed on Scotland despite 90% of Scotland's MPs voting against it. 

``We have made clear our commitment to mitigate the bedroom tax and the Budget will make available the resources to do so. 

``However, while that money will be available in all circumstances, I want us to be able to put it into the pockets of people directly affected. Lifting the cap on discretionary housing payments is not just the best way to do this, it remains the only way that regular and ongoing payments to make up loss of housing benefit can be made directly to those affected by the bedroom tax. 

``Any other approach will still see tenants incur arrears and will need to be very tightly drawn to stay within Scottish Government's legal ability to act. 

``I therefore hope that Parliament will unanimously back our call on the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) to raise the cap on discretionary housing payments - a move that will not cost them a penny.'' 

He added: ``While it is right that Parliament does everything it can to mitigate the impact of the bedroom tax, it is frankly ridiculous that the Scottish Parliament has to ask the UK Government's permission instead of having the power to scrap this unfair and punitive policy immediately.'' 

Labour has welcomed the extra funding to address the bedroom tax and has suggested a way in which the money can be used if the cap on DHPs is not lifted. 

Speaking on Monday, Iain Gray, the party's finance spokesman, said: ''We've been asking the Scottish Government for many months to find this money, to make it available, so that no one in Scotland need pay the bedroom tax, so of course we welcome the money.``