Next week, I will announce the draft Scottish Budget for 2018/19 to the Scottish Parliament.

The job has been made all the more challenging by the UK Tory Government Budget announced last month.

As a consequence of that Budget, Scotland’s resource block grant for day-to-day spending will fall by over £200million in real terms next year.

While money for the NHS in England should see a proportionate share come to Scotland, cuts in other UK departments mean that, instead of receiving over £30m this year, the Scottish Government will receive only £8m – a fraction of that spending.

The reality is that over £1.1billion of the money being promised to Scotland over the next four years are loans that the Scottish Government cannot spend directly on frontline public services and that have to be paid back to the Treasury.

At the same time, this Budget has failed to lift the public sector pay cap.

The SNP Scottish Government believes all public sector workers deserve a pay rise – and we will deliver one.

Finally ending the VAT obligation on Scotland’s police and fire services is welcome but, in both cases, these moves are well overdue and the UK Government must now commit to pay back the £140m of VAT they have already taken from our emergency services.

The Scottish Government takes a different approach to that of the UK Government towards how we grow our economy and improve people’s lives.

This will be central to the Budget I publish next Thursday.

One thing which has already been confirmed ahead of the Budget is the issue surrounding rates relief for local leisure centres and cultural venues run by council arm’s-length bodies (ALEOs).

Following engagement and consultation with stakeholders and others, I have confirmed the Scottish Government will not be accepting the recommendation to end this benefit.

We are committed to an active and healthy Scotland with a vibrant cultural life and we will continue to support local authorities in providing affordable ways for their communities to take part in culture and leisure activities.

As a result, the rates relief will remain in place for qualifying facilities operated by council ALEOs.

Full details of the Draft Budget will be available on the Scottish Government website at and my own website at from the afternoon of Thursday, December 14.