Humza Yousaf announces funding boost and council tax freeze at party conference
The SNP leader and first minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf, has announced a new annual funding of £100m, subject to approval by the Scottish Parliament, to help reduce inpatient and day-case waiting lists by an estimated 100,000 patients over the next three years. He made the announcement in his speech at the SNP conference in Aberdeen on Monday, where he also revealed plans to freeze council tax rates across Scotland next year.
Mr Yousaf said the extra £300m over three years would be used to increase capacity, staff and equipment in the NHS, as well as to support innovation and new ways of working. He said the funding would help tackle the backlog of patients waiting for treatment, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. He also praised the efforts of NHS staff and thanked them for their dedication and resilience.
The first minister said the SNP government was committed to delivering a world-class health service for the people of Scotland, and contrasted his approach with that of the UK government, which he accused of imposing a cost-of-living crisis on the public. He said the SNP would protect the NHS from privatisation and cuts, and ensure that it remained free at the point of need.
Council tax freeze to ease financial pressure on households
As well as announcing the funding boost for the NHS, Mr Yousaf also revealed that the SNP government would freeze the council tax in Scotland next year, to help ease the financial pressure on households. He said the move would save the average Band D household £72 a year, and would be funded by an additional £90m from the Scottish government to local authorities.
The first minister said the council tax freeze was a response to the cost-of-living crisis caused by the UK government, which he said had failed to tackle rising inflation, energy bills and food prices. He said the SNP government would do everything in its power to support families and businesses through the difficult times, and called on the UK government to scrap the cut to Universal Credit, extend the furlough scheme and increase the minimum wage.
Mr Yousaf also criticised the UK government for its handling of the Brexit process, which he said had damaged Scotland’s economy and reputation. He said the SNP would continue to make the case for Scotland’s right to choose its own future, and urged the party members and supporters to unite behind the strategy to secure a second independence referendum. He said the SNP would use the next general election as a mandate to demand a referendum, and vowed to deliver a fairer, greener and more prosperous Scotland.
Other announcements and reactions
In his speech, the first minister also made a number of other announcements, including:
- An increase of £100m in arts and culture funding over the next five years, to support the recovery and growth of the sector
- A plan to issue the first ever Scottish government bonds on the international bond market, to raise funds for infrastructure projects
- A commitment of up to £500m over five years to support the development of a new offshore wind supply chain in Scotland
- A pilot scheme to provide £1,000 to domestic abuse survivors fleeing their partners, as part of a £500,000 fund
- A contribution of £400,000 to the redevelopment of Union Street in Aberdeen city centre, as well as support for the Eden Project in Dundee, the Clyde Mission in Glasgow and the St James Quarter in Edinburgh
The speech was well received by the SNP delegates, who gave Mr Yousaf several standing ovations and applause. The speech was also praised by some of the SNP’s allies and supporters, such as the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Refugee Council.
However, the speech was also met with criticism and scepticism by the SNP’s opponents, such as the Scottish Conservatives, the Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. They accused Mr Yousaf of making empty promises, failing to address the key issues facing Scotland, and being obsessed with independence.