[Pounds Sterling]400m Budget U-Turn; Extra Finance for Roads, Hospitals and New Homes

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Byline: Alan Roden Scottish Political Editor

FINANCE Secretary John Swinney yesterday unveiled a [pounds sterling]400million spending package for roads, hospitals, housing and colleges in a series of last-minute budget U-turns.

Mr Swinney used the extra cash to appease critics - including opposition politicians, business chiefs and student leaders - as Holyrood staged the final vote on the 2012 budget.

The [pounds sterling]28billion Bill was passed by SNP and Lib Dem MSPs, defeating Labour, the Tories and the Greens by 70 votes to 52.

Amid a series of eleventh-hour changes, the Finance Secretary also watered down his 'supermarket tax' on shops that sell alcohol and cigarettes, reducing the charge by 14 per cent over three years.

The revisions were largely fuelled by additional funds from the UK Government in light of the Chancellor's spending plans south of the Border.

In other changes:

An extra [pounds sterling]72million was found to upgrade Scotland's crumbling roads, including the A75 Dunragit bypass near Stranraer, the A737 Dalry bypass in Ayrshire and design work for a dual carriageway on the country's most dangerous road, the A9.

An additional [pounds sterling]60million to help tackle a maintenance backlog at hospitals.

Nearly [pounds sterling]100million for housing, including [pounds sterling]45million for affordable homes to tackle a huge waiting list for families and to help the vital construction sector.

Concessions to students worth about [pounds sterling]40million, including a humiliating U-turn on plans to cut college bursaries - although overall funds will still fall.

An extra [pounds sterling]68million to improve broadband connectivity, particularly in rural areas.

In cash terms, the 2012-13 budget has increased slightly compared to last year but has fallen by about 1 per cent when inflation is taken into account.

The money will ensure the SNP can continue to pay for its 'populist giveaways', such as free prescriptions, free bus travel for anyone over 60, international aid, free university tuition and a pledge to end the public sector wage freeze in 2013.

Spending is being slashed in some areas, such as enterprise and road maintenance, and Mr Swinney last year disclosed plans for a 'supermarket tax' on large cigarette and alcohol retailers to boost government coffers.

Retail giants such as Tesco and Asda will be hit with a supplement on their business rates from April, raising fears that shopping bills could rise and stores could scale back investment plans. …