What will the budget do for us in the Western Isles?

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A decade of austerity has create a massive gap in the public services that we expect for our taxes and the services that are available to us.

The cutbacks endured have led to job losses as budgets have been cut to the quick.

Local services in particular have been dealt continued blows due to the reduced stream of funding from central government.

In a rural and fragile area such as the Western Isles 250 council jobs have been lost since 2010 and presumably this has also resulted in an impact to the economy.

And - despite the ‘feel good budget’ - touted in Westminster on Monday and the cheering line that ‘austerity is coming to an end’, our own Council is gearing up for ‘public conversations’ this month to glean ideas from islanders about how to redesign services for the future when they are faced with finding £10 million in savings.

As always with politics there are many sides to the story.

Hailing the news from Westminster as a win for our region was Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron.

Talking to the Gazette he said that the Chancellor had delivered a budget which included a number of measures designed to boost the Scottish economy, and stressed it was a “budget for the Western Isles”.

He continued: “I am delighted to hear that the Chancellor has listened to Scottish Conservative calls for more support for the whisky and spirits industry, and has announced a freeze on spirits duty for the second year in a row.

“This will be a significant boost for businesses across the Western Isles including the Abhainn Dearg, Isle of Harris and Isle of Barra distilleries, and could be worth an estimated £200m for the industry as a whole.

“Similarly, I welcome the fact that fuel duty is frozen, something that is vital to people living across the Western Isles.

“The increase in the personal allowance will also allow people to keep more of the money they earn. It is absolutely clear that while this was a budget designed to support people across the UK, it has definitely been a budget for the Western Isles too.”

In contrast Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan, expressed disappointed in the budget news.

He explained: “The Scottish Government has had to manage as best as it can during a difficult period of sustained cuts to public services.

“All parts of the public sector, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, have had to face very tough choices as a result of the UK Government’s austerity agenda.

“Monday’s budget announcement does not come close to ending austerity. Scotland’s block grant from Westminster will be £1.9 billion less in real terms in 2019/20 than it was when the Tories came into power.

“There is no sign of this damage being reversed from the Tories at Westminster and things may be worse still if public finances are hit by a no-deal Brexit, as seems increasingly likely.

“People will rightly wonder whether the significant sums of money put aside for a disastrous Brexit scenario, no-one in Scotland wants, could be spent much more effectively on public services.

“The reality of the budget is that Scotland continues to suffer from UK austerity and the decision to leave the EU.”