SNP and Labour set for crunch Budget talks

ALEX Salmond is due to meet Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray tomorrow for what the First Minister hopes will be the final process in securing unanimous support for the SNP Budget.

Mr Salmond held a special Cabinet meeting by conference-call from his home yesterday, updating ministers on his plans to get all opposition parties to back the Scottish Government's Budget.

The Budget Bill was rejected by the parliament last week after Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens voted against it.

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Mr Salmond wants to get all three parties on board when the Budget is re-submitted to parliament this week and his spokesman said yesterday that he was "extremely confident" of getting enough votes to have it approved, and was also hopeful the new Bill would command unanimous support.

It is understood that ministers are close to concluding agreements with both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, but a deal with Labour is still some way from completion.

Labour wants the Scottish Government to spend between 45 million and 90 million on 15,600 new apprentices in the next two years, and Mr Salmond will meet Mr Gray tomorrow in an attempt to find a way to square this demand with the SNP's existing Budget commitments.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "We are now extremely confident that we will secure a majority for the Budget, and we have had constructive discussions with all of the opposition groups.

We are seeking the broadest possible support for the Budget, and the process of dialogue continues – including a meeting between the First Minister and Iain Gray, Labour's Holyrood leader, on Tuesday morning."

The spokesman also referred to an opinion poll, conducted after the Budget was defeated last Wednesday, which showed a significant SNP lead over Labour.

However, there was criticism from business leaders yesterday for the way in which all the parties in the parliament had allowed politics to dominate the vital business of getting a Budget passed. The business figures called for a cross-party "coalition" at Holyrood after last week's debacle. "A form of some kind of coalition would benefit us greatly," said Jim Spowart, founder of internet bank Intelligent Finance and a former HBOS executive.

"I think the hot air has got to come out of politics, and all this brinkmanship and making points and point-scoring."

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Refrigeration tycoon Willie Haughey claimed there would "never be a better time" for cross-party collaboration to beat the economic storm.

"I think it has shown us in a terrible light – it was shambolic," Mr Haughey said of the vote. "Some people must have been looking at that and squirming."