NICOLA Sturgeon has said she is “profoundly concerned” about spending cuts and tax hikes in next week’s budget after the Chancellor warned of “eye-watering” decisions.

The First Minister said she feared more austerity, a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable, and inadequate resources for the NHS as it struggled to recover from Covid.

As new official statistics today suggested the UK economy was tipping into recession, Jeremy Hunt said the country faced “a tough road ahead  – one which will require extremely difficult decisions to restore confidence and economic stability”. 

He later added: “It’s not going to be easy. There are going to be some very difficult choices. 

“I’ve used the word ‘eyewatering’ before, and that’s the truth, but we’re going to make those choices to give nurses, public sector workers, actually all families and businesses who are worrying at the moment, that certainty that there’s a plan in place.”

Speaking after taking part in the British Irish COuncil in Blackpool, Ms Sturgeon, who met Mr Hunt and Rishi Sunak on Thursday, said the UK was  in an “incredibly difficult” position.

She said that, while she didn’t know the detail of what the Chancellor would announce in the Commons on Thursday, she could “read the runes” well enough.

She said: “I don’t think it will come as any surprise to hear me say, I’m profoundly concerned at what we may hear from the Chancellor on Thursday.”

She said the NHS needed more cash and protecting the most vulnerable in society was vital.

“My view, the Scottish Government’s view, is these decisions must be taken in a way that helps, not further harms, those most vulnerable in our society.

“For example, ensuring that benefits increase in line with inflation is essential to avoid further widening of the inequality gap and the erosion of the incomes of those that are at the bottom.

“We are in a very different situation right now in terms of pressures on the NHS than we have had, certainly in all of my time in politics, and I think a long time before that.

“So I’m profoundly concerned with what is lying ahead.

“We have come through a period of years of austerity, of the global pandemic that has had and is having a severe impact on those most vulnerable.”

Ms Sturgeon dismissed suggestions, given the economic issues facing the UK, that now is not the right time to push for a second Scottish independence referendum, and she blamed Brexit for much of the problems.

She added: “Many of the issues we are facing in the UK right now are UK-specific.

“Brexit is having a very, very significant impact on the UK economy and the future prospects for the UK economy.

“It’s going to be a permanent drag on our economic prospects.

“In many respects what we are living through right now tells us what happens to us when we are not in charge of the decisions that shape our own future but (are) at the mercy of decisions taken elsewhere.”