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Borders broadband boost

Programme Director for Digital Scotland – Liz Mallinson, Barrie Sweenie from Openreach, Mid-Berwickshire Ward Members – councillors Donald Moffat, John Greenwell and Frances Renton welcome broadband to Leitholm. Credit: Digital Scotland

More than 1,300 homes and businesses in and around Leitholm and Coldstream can now connect to fibre broadband.

The 300 homes and businesses in Leitholm and the 1,000 in Coldstream are among the 16,000 Scottish Borders premises now able to access fibre broadband due to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollout.

To celebrate the occasion, Mid-Berwickshire Ward Members – councillors Frances Renton, Donald Moffat and John Greenwell - and members of the Digital Scotland programme unveiled one of Leitholm’s new fibre cabinets – with a golden 16K sign attached to mark the event.

Combined with BT’s commercial coverage, it means that more than 38,000 premises across the Borders can now sign up with a service provider to receive fibre broadband.

As part of the day’s events, the Digital Scotland team were also in nearby Coldstream at the Court House Place Car Park where residents were able to attend a special drop-in event. Representatives from the Digital Scotland team were on hand to get people up to speed with the technology and provide advice on signing up with a service provider.

The £410 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme aims to provide fibre broadband infrastructure to parts of Scotland not included in commercial providers’ investment plans.

The local premises are among more than 350,000 across Scotland which can now access fibre broadband services at speeds of up to 80Mbps* as part of the rollout, being delivered on the ground by engineers from BT’s local network business, Openreach.

Fibre broadband enables multiple users in a home or business to access the internet, download and share large files at the same time more quickly than ever before. In order to take advantage of the higher speeds now available, residents should contact their service provider.

Scottish Borders Council (SBC) has contributed £8.4 million to the Digital Scotland rollout in addition to block funding from all the Scottish local authorities.

“It’s great to see that the Digital Scotland programme is making its way across the Scottish Borders, particularly in to some of our more rural and smaller villages. Fibre broadband opens up new opportunities for businesses and homes, as well as rural life.

“We know how important access to high-speed internet technology is to both residents and businesses – which is why Scottish Borders Council chose to invest £8.4 million into the programme’s rollout, to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from it.”

“Being connected can make such a contribution to all aspects of everyday life and work, and it’s great that Leitholm and Coldstream are now able to join the rising tide of communities which are already feeling the benefits.”

– Cllr Stuart Bell, SBC’s Executive Member for Economic Developmen

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SNP: Tories 'imposing austerity budget' on Scotland

Stewart Hosie Credit: PA

The SNP has criticised George Osborne's budget, saying it continues the Conservative government's "harsh austerity agenda".

They say the budget has been "imposed" on Scotland:

George Osborne’s Tory budget will hit hard working families, the poorest and young people the hardest. He has continued with his harsh austerity agenda - particularly the savage cuts in tax credits. Any increase in the living wage is of course welcome, but the reality is that the good will be undone by the Tory cuts to the incomes of people who can least afford it. And the living wage in Scotland is currently £7.85 - George Osborne is proposing to see it effectively lowered to £7.20.

This Budget was a sermon from the high priest of an austerity cult - taking from the poor and hard working people and giving to the richest. The Tories' cuts in the living standards of young people are particularly severe, including scrapping student grants. The SNP Government will continue to deliver grants for the poorest students in Scotland, demonstrating the benefits of having these powers in the Scottish Parliament, rather than in Tory hands at Westminster.

There were measures which we welcome such as the freeze in fuel duty, but there was nothing in the Budget to encourage innovation or exports.

The UK Government are imposing this austerity Budget on Scotland on the basis of having a single Tory MP north of the border - the electorate in Scotland overwhelmingly rejected austerity at the election by returning 56 SNP MPs, and the Tories secured their lowest share of the vote in Scotland since 1865.

This Budget underlines the need to have economic and welfare powers in Scotland, so that we can build a more dynamic economy to boost tax revenues, and a fairer society where policies benefit the many, not deliver tax cuts for millionaires."

– Stewart Hosie, SNP

Cumbria County Council responds to 'frustrating' Budget

The county council has slammed the Budget. Credit: ITV Border

Today's budget has been described as "deeply frustrating" by Cumbria County Council.

The council's Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Patricia Bell, has criticised the lack of information about local government finance:

The lack of detail in today’s statement by the Chancellor is deeply frustrating. We know that the financial future for local government is bleak. The fact is that year on year since 2010 government has chosen to cut funding to local councils, forcing them to make difficult, and unpopular, decisions. Today he has added little further information, keeping us guessing about exactly where the axe will fall. We now await the Comprehensive Spending Review in the autumn.

However, what is clear is that there will be no change in the underlying direction. There will be no let-up in the assault on our finances; while services like education and health will be protected, local councils will continue to be hammered.

Our best estimate before today was that we would have to reduce our spending by at least £80m over the next three years. We have plans for where some of those reductions will be made, but we’re still £55m short. To put that in context, the gap is more than three times the budget for our Fire and Rescue Service and over ten times the budget of our entire library service.

So this will mean continuing to put all our services under the microscope to work out how we can protect our children, support older people and maintain our roads. Improving efficiency remains important; but the savings we can make here won’t come close to what we need. Services are going to change and services are going to stop – important services that the public value. The only question is which ones.

Be under no illusion, what the Chancellor’s Budget Statement means is that the reductions in services over the last four years will accelerate. This council, and what it does, will be radically different in three years’ time. Government has dealt us this hand, all we can do is play it as best we can and minimise the inevitable damage to our county.”

– Councillor Patricia Bell, Cumbria County Council

Budget 'will hit poorest Scots hardest'

Citizens Advice Scotland Credit: Citizens Advice Scotland

Welfare cuts announced in today's Budget will hit Scotland's poorest people hardest, according to Citizens Advice Scotland.

The charity says more people could be forced into poverty, and have to rely on foodbanks, because of the changes.

It has welcome the introduction of a National Living Wage, but says wider cuts mean many people will be left worse off:

We are very concerned about the impact these cuts will have on the poorest and most vulnerable Scots – many of whom have already been hit hard by the previous welfare reforms. Once again it looks like the burden is falling on those who are least able to cope.

Last year Scottish CAB advisers saw a 71% increase in the number of people who needed to be referred to foodbanks. Our concern today is that these cuts will drive that trend to increase even more.

We of course welcome the move to a living wage economy, but it looks like for most people this will not be enough to off-set the impact of the wider cuts. We note too that the projected minimum wage rise to £7.20 next year still falls short of the Scottish living wage which is currently £7.85.

The freezing of working age benefits for four years is a cut in real terms. And some of the welfare cuts appear to have been focussed sharpest at young people in society - many of whom will be left without adequate support, particularly those who have no families to support them.

Anyone who is concerned about their finances can get expert advice from their local CAB or from our helpline on 0808 800 9060. CAB advice is free, impartial and confidential.”

– Susan McPhee, Head of Policy CAS

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Mundell: 'this is a Budget for the whole UK'

David Mundell MP Credit: PA

Conservative MP David Mundell says the Budget will benefit the whole country, and lead to lower taxes and higher wages in Scotland.

The MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, who is also Secretary of State for Scotland, has welcomed changes announced by Chancellor George Osborne:

This is a Budget for the whole of the UK. It rewards work, backs aspiration and ensures fairness for taxpayers across the UK. We’re moving towards a lower tax, higher wage and lower welfare economy. And within the welfare system, we continue to protect the most vulnerable.

The economy is growing. We are taking more people out of tax. Jobs are being created. The deficit is coming down. Our economic plan is working.

The UK currently has 1 per cent of the world’s population, but 7 per cent of the world’s welfare bill. That cannot be right and is not sustainable.

Work is the best route to a secure future, and the peace of mind which that brings . We are making sure we have a welfare system which always rewards work, while making sure the most vulnerable are protected.

The National Living Wage is an essential part of the move from a low wage, high tax, high welfare society to a higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare society. It ensures that work pays, and reduces reliance on the State topping up wages through the benefits system.

There is no sensible person who suggests the deficit we inherited should not be tackled. Even our opponents agree with us on that. It would be wrong to burden our children and grandchildren – the next generations - with debt run up by previous governments in this generation.

This is part of being a responsible, responsive Government.

The UK Government is committed to delivering the Smith agreement in full, which will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world.

If the Scottish Government want to spend more they will have the Scottish rate of Income Tax from next year, with even more control over how much you pay in tax coming after that. They will also have wide-ranging powers over welfare payments.

It is now up to them to tell us all how they intend to use those powers.”

– David Mundell MP

But his views have had a mixed response on Twitter, with one SNP supporter taking issue with the idea that it's a "budget for the whole UK".

Lamont: Budget will 'reward hard working families'

John Lamont MSP. Credit: ITV Border

Conservative MSP John Lamont has welcomed the first Tory-only Budget for nearly 20 years.

He says it'll "reward hard working families in the Borders", and stabilise the UK economy:

I was delighted to hear the measures announced by the Chancellor in his budget. By taking those on the lowest pay out of income tax altogether and introducing a new National Living Wage of £9, the UK Government is rewarding work and allowing those on the lowest incomes to keep more of what they earn.

At a time when household budgets are stretched I know that this will come as real help to many households in the Borders.

The Chancellor has had to take some tough decisions over welfare spending, but these measures will ensure that the UK will finally be doing the responsible thing and raising more money than it spends by 2019.

I’m also pleased with new measures such as the further freeze on fuel duty and the planned reduction in corporation tax, which will both be good for jobs in the Borders."

– John Lamont MSP

And the MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire has also taken the opportunity to attack the SNP-dominated Scottish government:

Like their plans for Full Fiscal Autonomy, the Scottish Government’s attacks on this budget are just not credible.

The Chancellor is taking the tough decisions needed to bring the deficit down and secure the economic future of the UK.

Soon, the SNP is going to have to demonstrate how it will use new fiscal powers and show that it too can make the difficult choices needed to manage tax and spending.”

– John Lamont MSP

Scottish landlords 'could be forced to increase rent'

The Scottish Association of Landlords has criticised the change. Credit: PA

Scottish landlords could be pushed to raise their rents because of measures announced in today's budget, according to the Scottish Association of Landlords.

The group is worried about the ending of tax deductions for buy-to-let mortgages:

This is a shocking decision by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which unfairly discriminates against landlords who provide valuable housing across Scotland. In other businesses, tax is applied on profit, which is as it should be.

Although we welcome other measures in the Budget such as reforms to the Rent A Room scheme which will increase supply of affordable rented accommodation, the decision on buy-to-let mortgages means landlords will essentially be taxed for investing in their businesses, something utterly unthinkable in any other sector.

As a result of this increase cost and risk to landlords, you may see some within the sector feeling they are forced to increase their rent levels which would obviously have a huge negative impact on tenants. The Scottish Association of Landlords have been working constructively with both Shelter and the Scottish Government to find ways of increasing supply to drive down rent levels in hot-spots across Scotland but this decision by the Chancellor potentially takes the legs away from that valuable partnership working.

We will be consulting our members, Scottish MPs and MSPs, as well as the Scottish Government and the third sector to find ways of trying to overturn this decision or, at the very least, to mitigate the damage this could cause to our business and to our customers in Scotland.”

– John Blackwood, Chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords

Farron: 'everything we stopped' comes out in Budget

Tim Farron MP Credit: PA

South Lakes MP Tim Farron has slammed the Chancellor's budget, claiming many of today's changes had been stopped by the Liberal Democrats in the last Parliament.

In particular, Farron points to benefits for people under the age of 21, and grants for university students.

But he has praised the increase in the personal allowance, and increased funding for the NHS:

For all its talk about striving, aspiration and creating a Northern Powerhouse, this budget has delivered none of it.

It shows that the Conservatives, devoid of fresh ideas, have simply rehashed old ones that were rejected over the last few years. That is not be said that there is not some kernels of good policies within the announcement – the best being the raising of the income tax threshold to £11,000 on its way to £12,500, something we as Liberal Democrats pushed and promoted.

This will help some of the poorest working people in the Lakes.”

– Tim Farron, MP
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