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SNP Finance Secretary urged to use Budget to ditch austerity and offer a ‘real change of direction’

SCOTTISH Finance Secretary Derek Mackay is facing calls to ditch austerity and offer a “real change of direction” in tomorrow’s Budget.

The SNP government will need the help of at least one other party to pass its Budget in the Scottish Parliament. It has often enjoyed support from the Greens, but the small party said this week it would require “meaningful” reforms to council tax.

Scottish Labour called on ministers to offer beefed-up council funding, a rise in social security payments and a rail fares freeze. The opposition party also called for a new women’s health fund and the reversal of cuts to community policing.

The party’s finance spokesman James Kelly said: “The time for tinkering at the edges is over. We need a real change of direction in this Budget. In government, Labour will do things differently, but we have the power to make different choices in Scotland now.

“We are urging the SNP to take action to prevent more cuts to local services, to end the abhorrent two-child cap on social security and to increase child benefit to lift 30,000 children out of poverty.”

After presenting his draft Budget tomorrow, Mr Mackay will hold further talks with other parties in a bid to secure support.

The Scottish Lib Dems pulled out of talks earlier this week after the governing SNP refused to rule out a fresh push for independence.

Bosses’ representatives have lobbied Mr Mackay to reconsider plans for an additional business levy – or “Amazon tax” – on e-commerce companies.

Scottish government sources were also said to have played down the notion that such a tax will be announced. The Finance Secretary is now reported to believe it would be too complicated to implement and that the Britain-wide digital services tax in Tory Philip Hammond’s Budget is a better approach.

Scotland's Business Minister Jamie Hepburn said today that falling unemployment north of the border showed that “the Scottish economy and jobs market remain strong, despite the continued challenges of Brexit.”

Mr Hepburn said the Budget would “set out how we help protect Scotland as far as we can from the damaging uncertainty of Brexit and how we will deliver on our vision of a healthier, wealthier and fairer country.”

Conrad Landin is the Morning Star’s Scotland Editor.

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