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'Key documents' on funding talks to be published before election

John Swinney said papers revealing Westminster-Holyrood discussions will be released.

John Swinney: In talks over fiscal framework. (file pic)
John Swinney: In talks over fiscal framework. (file pic) © SWNS Group

Papers revealing details of key discussions over Scotland's future funding arrangements are to be published before Holyrood breaks up for May's election, the deputy first minister has revealed.

John Swinney is locked in crunch talks with the UK Treasury over the fiscal framework, which sets out how the Scottish block grant will be reduced after new powers over tax are handed to MSPs.

With UK ministers confident a deal can be reached, chief secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands is travelling to Edinburgh for a day of talks with Mr Swinney on Monday. Ahead of those negotiations Mr Swinney said people had a right to see "all the key documents" and he would publish them before the May election.

He said: "I agreed at the outset with chief secretary to the Treasury that the detail of our discussions, like any negotiation, should remain private while they are ongoing and that remains our position. There needs to be a private space in which talks can take place.

"Once this process has run its course, Scotland's Parliament and people have a right to see all the key documents. That's why I can give a commitment that I will publish these documents in time for Scottish Parliamentary scrutiny and before the Scottish Parliament dissolves."

Holyrood will be dissolved on March 23, ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections on May 5. The Scottish Government has already warned it will pull the plug on the Scotland Bill by recommending Holyrood veto the legislation if the two governments cannot strike a deal on the fiscal framework.

SNP ministers insist they are "not bluffing", claiming that a bad deal could cost Scotland billions of pounds in the long-term.

Mr Swinney said: "People have a right to expect open and transparent government and will be able to see and judge for themselves the issues at stake.

"I want to agree a fiscal framework with the UK Government that is fair to Scottish and to UK taxpayers and allows us to properly exercise the new powers without fear of penalty. I am working flat out to get that and giving all of the time possible to do a deal. With time running out, we need to make substantial progress."

He stated: "The fiscal framework must remain true to Smith Agreement which said the Barnett Formula will remain and that Scotland should be no better or worse off as a result of having new powers.

"That cannot be undermined, and I will not sign anything that risks systematically cutting Scotland's budget, regardless of anything that this or future Scottish Governments do."

Scottish secretary David Mundell said both governments had a "huge desire" to reach a deal, adding that is "confident that we will deliver".

The two administrations are "not that far apart", he stated, saying they are "united in seeking a deal which is fair to Scotland - and also fair to the rest of the UK".

Mr Mundell said the public would be "mystified if politicians falter at the last fence when these sweeping powers and responsibilities are on the cusp of becoming a reality".

He added: "We must all go the extra mile and make sure we deliver what we were asked for, a powerhouse Parliament for Scotland."

The Conservative MP said: "The UK Government has already made significant efforts in trying to find compromise. We have moved our position to try to meet the Scottish Government's concerns about their ability to grow the economy.

"Ministers at Holyrood will be shielded from a significant amount of risk, while still keeping all the money they take in income tax from Scottish taxpayers. And we will review the framework after a few years to make absolutely sure it is delivering for Scotland and the rest of the UK."

But he insisted: "What we cannot do is agree a deal where ministers in a future Scottish Government are absolved from any risk at all if they take decisions which mean Scotland's economy doesn't perform as well as we know it can. That would not meet the commitment to fairness to all demanded by the Smith Agreement."

Labour's shadow Scottish secretary, Ian Murray MP, said: "Instead of waiting until after the talks conclude there should be full transparency now on what is happening behind closed doors in the Scottish and UK Governments, as Labour has been calling for since September. 

"John Swinney obviously understands that there is value in transparency. At the very least he should explain clearly to people what is at stake on Monday, the issues under discussion and the sticking points. 

"However, the absolute focus should be on making sure an agreement is reached instead of grandstanding about missed deadlines."

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