Monday, 3 October 2011

Osborne bonus refunds SNP c-tax freeze

So, Osborne has found £805m down the back of the sofa for a council tax freeze in England for another year.

This, I'm told, will deliver the Scottish government a Barnett consequential of about £67.5m into its general budget. The Holyrood government can use the bonus as it pleases, it is not assigned to specific spending.

The SNP administration has already budgeted around £70m a year to pay for a Scottish council tax freeze for 2012-13. The SNP pledged in their manifesto to keep the charge frozen for the lifetime of the parliament, up to 2016.

Effectively, Osborne could claim he is reimbursing the Scottish government for its popular policy, but the Tories here in Manchester aren't spinning it like that.

On the subject of finding money down the sofa, hats off to the Treasury team for finding -albiet at the very last minute - £3m to keep the two emergency tug vessels on the west coast of Scotland going for another three months.

The contract for the coastguard tugs in Shetland and Stornoway ran out on Friday and was not due to be renewed under the cuts programme. But the Department of Transport has been told, quite directly I understand, to find the means to keep the cover until another funding solution is devised.

Just as well, because it's blowing 70mph out there in the Hebrides today. Had there been a shipping disaster anywhere from the Shetland Islands to the Western Atlantic with no towing vessel available Lib Dem MPs Alistair Carmichael and Danny Alexander would have had some explaining (and possibly some resigning) to do. The pressure will now be on to resolve this lifesaving issue.

With every turn away from austerity the government is, of course, making a rod for its own back. You know what the mantra is going to be for the coastguard tugs and every other crucial u-turn - if they can find £250m for weekly bin collections then surely...

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