THE number of civil servants could be cut back and government buildings sold or leased out under plans being considered by Scottish ministers to improve public finances without having to raise taxes for higher earners, Shona Robison has signalled.

The Deputy First Minister and finance secretary said her government would take a "cautious" approach to tax as she drew attention to the possible measures on staff and offices as she was pressed on how her administration was going to pay for new policies set out last week including expanding free childcare and dualling the A9.

Humza Yousaf unveiled his Programme for Government in Holyrood last week with a mission to tackle poverty by growing the economy.

But he has faced questions over how he will pay for some of the anti-poverty measures with the Scottish government facing a looming £1 billion black hole in its budget, putting pressure on tax and spending decisions.

READ MORE: Victoria Quay: MSPs call for firms to use empty parts of vast office

Asked by the BBC this morning how expensive policies on childcare and roads would be paid for, Ms Robison drew attention to ongoing work over 'prioritisation' in government.

"So obviously we will set out our tax and spending plans as part of the Budget which we are fast approaching but we also over the summer kicked off an important piece of work in government and that was to look at the prioritisation and the re-prioritisation, more targetting, that work is ongoing," she said.

"Looking at what the right size of the workforce across government and public bodies is, looking at the Scottish estate which we have and looking at how public services can work differently together to provide services in a more efficient way."

She insisted the move was not about "sacking anyone" and raised the prospect that some departments could get larger - saying Social Security Scotland had grown because it was administrating more benefits as well as the office dealing with help for Ukrainians who had fled to Scotland following Russia's full scale invasion of the country - while other offices could get smaller.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: wealth tax possible due to pressure on public finances

"With people working at home more we don't need the same configuration of buildings," adding that the government would be speaking to trade unions on the issues.

On tax, Ms Robison repeated underlined the administration believed in the principle of fairness but underlined that it was mindful with cost of living pressures facing households it would adopt a "cautious" approach to income tax.

"We have taken an approach based on the principle of progressive and fair taxation, those with the broadest shoulder should pay a bit more, but we have to counter that with the cost of living situation and pressure that households are under," she said noting figures from the Scottish Fiscal Commission that 52% of people in Scotland still pay less than they would if they lived elsewhere in the UK.

Pressed whether high earners would be facing tax rises, she said no decisions had been made on any changes adding that her government was "very very aware" that households were struggling.

The Herald:

SNP MSPs Ivan McKee and Ben Macpherson have called for empty parts of the vast Scottish Government headquarters at Victoria Quay in Leith to be used by businesses in a bid to promote economy growth and save public money.

"We are very aware we need to proceed with caution and we need to look at these things in the round. I am absolutely not saying that people's taxes will go up at all. I am saying we are taking a very cautious approach."

During the SNP leadership election in the Spring, Mr Yousaf appeared to be open to further changes to Scotland's income tax system.

READ MORE: Robison refuses to say if Ewing will lose SNP whip 'this week'

In March he told a hustings that he would consider a proposal put forward by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) for a new 44% income tax band, which would sit between the current higher rate of 42% and the top rate of 47% – chargeable on annual income between £75,000 and £125,140.

But in interviews since unveiling his Programme for Government last Tuesday he has seemed less open to the move.

On Wednesday he suggested that a threat of a brain drain from Scotland to England if Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cut taxes across the rest of the UK - as he is being pressured to do by Conservative backbenchers - would make him reconsider rate increases north of the border.

“We’d also have to consider what the UK government does,” Mr Yousaf told the Good Morning Scotland on BBC radio.“If the UK government cuts tax, for example, we will have to be mindful of the divergence that exists and that divergence is fine, absolutely, to a point. But we have to be careful around the behavioural impacts of any divergence.”

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Later on Wednesday, the First Minister said the introduction of new wealth taxes in Scotland should not be ruled out in the face of “extraordinary” pressure on the public finances.

The First Minister said the “really tough financial constraints” that the Scottish Government was working under meant that ministers “shouldn’t rule wealth taxes off the table”.

Under the current system, all Scots who earn over £28,000 pay more in income tax than if they lived in England, with the gap growing wider for those with the highest salaries.

However, ministers point to a range of benefits to people who live in Scotland - including no university fees and free prescriptions - which are not available to residents in other parts of the UK as a justification for the difference.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Yousaf referenced the STUC paper suggesting that it continued to inform his thinking.

The paper proposed the creation of an “annual wealth tax” of 1%, which could be levied on the 12% of Scottish households with a total wealth of over £1m.

Separately, ministers are also consulting on changes to council tax with increases on properties in band E or higher on a sliding scale rising from 7.5% to 22.5% under consideration.

Responding to Ms Robison's remarks today, Liz Smith, Scottish Conservative shadow finance and local government secretary, said: “Despite her protests, the deputy first minister knows full well that the SNP are going to hike taxes even further for hard-working Scots this year. 

“In 2023, most Scots will pay more income tax than they would if they lived elsewhere in the UK. 

“And the SNP government has already proposed council tax rises of up to 22.5% for 740,000 households. 

“Ms Robison’s party has failed Scotland because they put their obsession with independence above anything else – and working families are having to pick up the tab. 

“The Scottish Conservatives want to shift the focus onto Scotland’s real priorities, like reducing NHS waiting times, restoring our schools and growing Scotland’s economy.”