FINANCE Secretary Kate Forbes has pledged to see if cash can be found in the Scottish Government’s Budget to give care workers a pay rise.
Forbes said she could not currently support a Labour amendment to the Budget calling for all social care staff to get an immediate increase in wages to £12 an hour, ahead of a review that would increase this further still to £15.
However, she said she would look at the figures and work with Labour to “see if we can come to a compromise”.
She made the commitment as MSPs debated the Scottish Government’s draft tax and spending plans for the coming year at Holyrood.
With UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak due to unveil his Budget next week, Forbes said there would likely be further changes to her own proposals.
“The delayed UK Budget in March is key to confirming that the actual funding position will be for Scotland next year,” she told the Scottish Parliament.
“I think it is likely that will mean we need to take further changes to the Bill following the UK Budget, to ensure that the allocations reflect the resources available.”
Forbes said she was “fully committed to exploring” Labour calls for a pay rise for care staff.
However, she stressed any wage hike would need to be “affordable”, adding: “I ultimately need to ensure proposals on pay which are recurring and can not be covered by one-off Covid consequentials can be funded.”
She added that collective bargaining meant there could be “knock-on impacts on other workforces” in the public sector.
She stated: “My public commitment today is to explore carers’ pay with officials and with Jackie Baillie over the coming weeks to see if we can come to a compromise.”
She made the commitment after Baillie, Scottish Labour’s acting leader, argued care workers deserved a pay rise following their efforts during the coronavirus crisis.
Baillie said: “These workers, who looked after some of our most vulnerable people during the pandemic, were applauded by us all during the first lockdown.
“Every week we stood and clapped for them – now they deserve more than our praise, they deserve a raise.”
Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser, however, insisted his party could not back the budget plans that had been put forward by the Scottish Government.
He said: “This is not a Budget we can support, because it falls short of what the Scottish people and Scottish society requires.”
While the package includes £11.6 billion of cash for local government, the Tories want to see money for councils rise “at least” in line with the funding the Scottish Government receives.
Fraser said: “This Government needs to stop treating local councils as the whipping boy of the budget process. It needs to start treating councils fairly and it should start with this Budget.”
He told MSPs the Scottish Government had received a record amount to spend for 2021-22 – adding this was “all thanks to the broad shoulders and deep pockets of the British Government, supporting businesses, individuals and public services in Scotland at this difficult time”.
Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said his party wanted to see more changes to the Budget before it could support it in next month’s crucial final vote.
He said he had told Forbes his party were “on the hunt for more”, as he urged her to give more cash to local government and for mental health services.
Meanwhile, Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said his party would “continue working toward Budget changes to achieve improvement for Scotland’s people, both in the immediate crisis in household incomes and in the long term drive for a green recovery”