SCOTLAND currently faces a degree of uncertainty that amounts to “billions of pounds” when it comes to setting its budget for next year, Kate Forbes has warned.

The Finance Secretary spoke out on the challenge as she joined with her counterparts in Northern Ireland and Wales to make a joint plea to the UK Government for more clarity over funding.

With the UK Budget now delayed – perhaps until as late as March next year when Holyrood is due to break up ahead of the Scottish elections – Forbes and the finance ministers in Cardiff and Belfast took the unprecedented step of making co-ordinated statements to their respective parliaments.

The three all want greater certainty from the UK Government over future levels of funding, as well as increased financial flexibility – arguing this is needed to help them respond to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser insisted that the Scottish Government should be “getting on with the job of using its extensive resources to support those in need”.

But as she told how next year’s Scottish Budget would be “one of the most important in the history of devolution”, she added that it would also be a “budget of unprecedented uncertainty”.

Forbes said: “The delay of the UK Budget means the Scottish Budget for next year will be based on provisional and partial figures, and therefore subject to unnecessary uncertainty and risk, at a time where uncertainty and risk are not in short supply.

“We will not know what parameters we have to work with on crucial issues such as health funding or businesses support.

“The degree of uncertainty runs to the billions of pounds.”

With ministers dealing with coronavirus and the impact of lockdown, Forbes insisted the amount of cash that was needed currently “far outstrips the resources available”.

Calling on the UK Government to give the devolved administrations both greater clarity and greater financial powers, she warned without these, “substantial savings” would be needed if the Scottish Government is to balance its budget next year – as it required to do.

Forbes insisted: “Without further clarity on funding or flexibilities from the UK Government, substantial savings will be required to bring the budget into balance by year end.”

With financial uncertainty also compounded by Brexit, Forbes said: “We, that is the Welsh finance secretary, the Northern Irish

finance secretary and myself, are collectively asking the UK Government for urgent clarity around the timing and the scope of the comprehensive spending review to allow us to improve our planning assumptions.”

Welsh finance minister Rebecca Evans said: “I am focused on protecting the people of Wales from the worst impacts of the pandemic, while laying the foundations for recovery based on jobs, our young people and the environment.

“However, the Chancellor’s decision to cancel the UK Autumn Budget, alongside the uncertainty of the spending review and the complete lack of information on replacement EU funding, all contribute to making our task harder still.

“Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are today calling on the UK Government to provide the fairness, flexibility and clarity we need to support and protect our communities and businesses.”

Conor Murphy, the Northern Irish finance minister, echoed those pleas.

Speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly, he said: “As finance ministers, we represent over 10 million people and today we speak with one voice.

“We are calling for more fiscal flexibility to manage the implications of Covid-19.”