The annual Scottish budget process comprises a Draft Budget Scrutiny Phase and a Budget Bill Phase. In one year during the parliamentary session it will also include a Budget Strategy Phase. This current process reflects revisions made since devolution, with the agreement of the Parliament's Finance Committee. The Government's written agreement with the Committee can be accessed via the Committee's budget scrutiny web page.
Draft Budget Scrutiny Phase. The Draft Budget for the following year is published in September or October and sets out the Government's detailed spending plans for the following year. Again, Parliamentary Committees and the public are consulted for their views. At this stage, the Finance Committee may propose changes to the budget, but only if they net to zero (i.e. proposed increases must be offset by savings elsewhere in the budget). The Finance Committee then makes a report which pulls together recommendations from the various subject committees' reports, and this is debated in Parliament in December, marking the end of this phase.
Budget Bill Phase. This stage of the budget process starts with the laying of the Budget Bill in Parliament in January. The Budget Bill sets out Ministers' spending plans for the following year, taking into account comments made at Draft Budget Scrutiny Phase. The Budget Bill must be laid by 20 January each year, or the first day thereafter on which Parliament sits, and must complete all of its stages by 14 February. Only Ministers can propose amendments at this stage and, once enacted, the Bill provides the statutory authority for expenditure by the Government. Parliament's consideration of the Budget Bill consists of three stages. Stage 1 is a debate in the Parliament, Stage 2 is an evidence session with the Minister for Finance at the Finance Committee and Stage 3 is a further debate in the Parliament.
Budget Strategy Phase. This will take place in the spring prior to the next UK Spending Review and is intended to allow the Parliament to scrutinise the progress which the Scottish Government is making in delivering its own targets through its spending priorities and to take a strategic overview of the public finances around the mid-point of the current Parliament. The parliamentary committees will have the opportunity to scrutinise both the Scottish Government's performance and its spending priorities, and will report to the Finance Committee in sufficient time to allow a report to be published prior to Summer recess and debated by the Parliament.
The Scottish budget process is designed to encourage participation by the people of Scotland in the debate about how the budget is spent. To this end, the budget documents are freely available and are published on the Scottish Government website. The Draft Budget Scrutiny Phase is a consultation, and all interested parties have an opportunity to make their views known, either in writing or at specially-arranged consultation sessions. The aim is to have a budget process that increases transparency and ensures that Scotland's budget is spent efficiently and effectively.