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Swinney: Scottish Government's done everything possible to counter Westminster's austerity agenda

The Scottish Government has done "everything possible" with its limited powers to counter Westminster's "relentless austerity agenda" in its last budget before the independence referendum, Finance Secretary John Swinney has said.

Mr Swinney published his Budget Bill ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament next week, insisting he "could do yet more to strengthen our economy" with independence.

The Bill confirms £55 million for free school meals, £59 million extra for childcare on top of the £191 million previously pledged, £77 million for business rates relief and £20 million to cover benefit cuts from those deemed to have extra bedrooms.

But the Scottish Government has warned that "Westminster decisions are cutting the Scottish Government's discretionary spending power by more than 11% in real terms over five years, with the Chancellor having confirmed additional cuts to come".

Mr Swinney said: "This budget demonstrates the benefits of decisions being made in Scotland, by those who care most about its future.

"The budget will help us to ensure Scotland is the best place for our children to grow up, that we offer the most competitive environment for business within the UK and that people in Scotland are protected from the worst effects of Westminster's welfare cuts.

"The budget confirms the funding needed to deliver the Scottish Government's commitments to expand the provision of free schools meals and childcare, to offer the most competitive business rates regime in the UK and help those affected by Westminster's bedroom tax.

"Within our limited powers this Government is doing everything possible to tackle the effects of Westminster's cuts to the Scottish budget on our economy, their damaging welfare reform agenda and their relentless austerity agenda.

"This is shown by this week's GDP figures which highlight that economic recovery is continuing to strengthen.

"During July to September of 2013, the total output in the economy grew by 0.7%, while on an annual basis GDP grew by 2.1% compared to the same quarter in 2012.

"The actions I have taken in this budget outline the values and priorities of the Scottish Government. Through this Budget, we will drive forward investment in our economy, protect our NHS, invest in our young people and businesses and protect the most vulnerable.

"This is the last Budget before Scotland has the opportunity to choose full fiscal and economic powers for Scotland in a referendum of independence.

"With the full powers of independence the Scottish Government could do yet more to strengthen our economy, to create more jobs and to make the kind of transformational investment that would help thousands of people back into work . That is the opportunity on offer to the people of Scotland in 2014."

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