THE Scottish Government underspend was almost half a billion pounds last year, prompting claims of mismanagement and ministers sitting on an unused “slush fund”.

The figure was more than twice the £191m underspend of the year before.

Announcing the outturn figure for 2017-18, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay told MSPs the fiscal budget had been £31.4bn, but expenditure £30.9bn.

However he stressed most of the unspent money was already committed, including £100m for a new social security system, and all the money would be spent by the Scottish Government, not returned to the Treasury.

He said that for the second year running, income from devolved taxes was up, with total provisional income from Land & Buildings Transactions Tax and Scottish Landfill Tax reaching £706m, £50m above forecasts, and £73 million, or 12 per cent, up on 2016-2017.

He said that the net extra being carried forward into 2018/19 was £66m, or just 0.2 per cent of the overall fiscal budget, and that this would be done through the Scotland Reserve pot, making it available “to support management of future budget volatility”.

He said: “The 2017-18 provisional outturn results show that once again the Scottish Government has prudently and competently managed Scotland’s finances.

“Under the current devolution settlement, the Scottish Parliament is not permitted to overspend its budget. As a consequence, we have consistently adopted a position of controlling public expenditure to ensure we live within the budget control limits that apply.

“These underspends represent a fraction of our overall budget, but will be carried forward to support this year’s budget and increase our reserves.

“We will continue to maintain a firm grip on Scotland’s public finances to mitigate the negative impact Brexit will have on Scotland’s economic outlook.”

Labour MSP James Kelly said the underspend was “nothing short of a scandal”, given ministers had cut £1.5bn from councils since 2011, and demanded Mr Mackay apologise to workers facing the axe while he sat on an “SNP government slush fund”.

He said: “Money is piling up in his slush fund for his annual bribe to win Green votes to get his budgets passed.

“This is simply a gross mismanagement of the Scottish finances by a Finance Secretary who is clearly out of his depth. Derek Mackay must apologise to communities across Scotland that have been damaged by his reckless actions.”

Tory Murdo Fraser added: “Derek Mackay might like to fool us all into thinking this £453m underspend figure is an insignificant sum. But it’s higher than what the SNP’s independence blueprint [Growth Commission] said it would cost to create a separate state.

“The finance secretary is having to put money aside to meet a projected shortfall in tax revenues due to Scottish economic underperformance.”