Today’s Scottish Budget was a typical John Swinney fudge. It is lighter on detail than it should have been and it is disappointing that John Swinney wouldn’t give the figures for more than one year. You might have concluded that John Swinney does not expect to be Finance Cabinet Secretary this time next year. You would be right.
The one year only budget is a dangerous way for every school, hospital and college in Dundee and elsewhere in Scotland to try and plan ahead. Hard working staff have no way of knowing what to expect from the SNP. They can’t take sensible decisions if they don’t have the future plans.
On the day when unemployment is going up in Dundee and across Scotland but down in the rest of the UK, the SNP is wrong to cut support for enterprise, colleges and tourism, but failed to cut high pay, bonuses and waste. Under the SNP the highest paid staff in the NHS still keep £26 million of bonuses.
Another wasted opportunity.
Yesterday John Swinney, the SNP Cabinet Secretary for Finance and (no) Sustainable Growth told the SNP Conference of “very significant restraint” of pay for all public sector workers in Scotland. Today, Alex Salmond is going to confirm fears that the SNP Government is going to cut the number of police forces in Scotland. The SNP is presiding over cuts in nursing staff across Scotland – one Health Board is cutting 553 nursing jobs.
So, its an obvious time for the SNP to annouce that they will continue with implementation of their policy of free prescriptions for millionaires.
It is about time this SNP government of cheap headlines and no responsibility woke up and smelt the coffee.
The Finance Secretary has also responded to our demand for debt-financing support for Scottish business. Too many businesses we have spoken to simply cannot get access to loans through their bank. A Federation of Small Business report this week shows that our priority on this is right. These soundly-based businesses need government support to get through the recession. This has now been agreed by the Scottish Government and further detailed plans – using European funding – will be announced shortly.
• The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) has been an expensive failure. It is a political white elephant which has achieved nothing for Scotland. It should be scrapped.
• Far from a radical alternative that will revolutionise public investment, the SNP’s much-derided flagship financial policy has turned out simply to be a new quango which will act as an advisory body for the public sector. It has no funding stream and there is no evidence of when or how it will make the promised annual £150 million efficiency savings.
• Projects around the country are being delayed as a result of the SFT uncertainty. In a recession there is a serious need to delivered infrastructure for Scotland’s economy but the SFT is fast becoming a national embarrassment. The SNP must put the Futures Trust in the past and get on with building the schools and hospitals Scotland needs.
The Scottish Futures Trust & School Building:
• Under the School Building Programme the first primary school won’t be built until 2011, the first secondary school in 2013 and some schools will be delayed until 2018. The SNP pledged that they would match the previous administration’s school building ‘brick for brick’. However, the School Building Programme is only funding 14 secondary schools and 21 primary and specialist schools.
• Despite LibDem calls for the reintroduction of level playing field support for councils which would have helped councils plan ahead with their school building, the Government neither listened nor delivered.
Six public sector executive board members are paid more than Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister (£197 000) or Alex Salmond, First Minister (£145 000). A further 1 596 are paid between £80 000 and £100 000 — more than a Scottish government minister. The total salary bill for the highest-paid is at least £400 million a year.
If you go tohttp://tinyurl.com/fatcatpay, you can read the Courier’s news report about this – and I publish below the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ news release about the matter. What is clear is that the SNP government is taking no action to tackle the issue – disgraceful given the financial and economic challenges facing Scotland. Scott challenges Salmond to cut the fat cat pay bill
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott MSP challenged the First Minister to cut the fat cat pay bill by 2010.
At First Minister’s Questions, Mr Scott revealed that nearly 3,400 people in the public sector get paid more than a Scottish Government Minister does. They receive a total of almost £401 million in pay each year.
Commenting, Mr Scott said:
“At least 3,400 people in the public sector in Scotland get paid more than a Scottish Government Minister. Some even get paid more than Alex Salmond’s three salaries as MP, MSP and First Minister added together.
“They receive a total of £401 million in pay every year.
“All across vital public services people at the bottom of the income scale are being threatened with losing their jobs. Statistics last week show that the number of young people unemployed has never been higher.
“People will not understand why the Government lets this pay chasm between richest and poorest continue.
“The First Minister and his Government are in charge of public sector pay. It was John Swinney who awarded the new Chief Executive of Scottish Enterprise her bumper £203,000 salary and handed the Chief Executive of the Scottish Futures Trust a fat £180,000 paycheque.
“I want a fair society where the very well paid are expected to share the burden of tight government spending, not just the poorest and unemployed.
“The First Minister needs to set a target as part of his Budget to reduce that pay bill and spend the money on creating skills and jobs for young people instead. It’s right that the people who get such a vast share of public money should shoulder a fair share of the burden in these tough times.”
Hyslop’s response? She blames the councils, the recession, budget cuts … actually everybody but the SNP and herself.
The reality is that the SNP promised something it could not deliver. The policy has failed to be funded by the SNP government and the only person Fiona Hyslop should blame is Fiona Hyslop – the least effective Education Minister since devolution.
I have indicated in the past (seehttp://tinyurl.com/referendumwaste) that a referendum is a complete waste of public money – particularly in the current challenges facing the economy (what an irrelevance at a time all effort should be being made to tackling the recession) – but particularly because there are regular General Elections and Scottish Parliamentary Elections where the constitutional future of Scotland could be altered should separatist parties gain a majority of the vote or seats.
I therefore agree with the letter writer from Polmont in today’s “Scotland on Sunday” (seehttp://tinyurl.com/nosupportrefer) who writes : “When will the SNP realise that every national election in which they have campaigned has offered the Scottish electorate the opportunity to vote for independence?
My first personal experience of a General Election was in 1974 when the posters declared ‘Independence this time – Yes’. My political experience came in 1992 when we were told that Scotland would be ‘Free by ’93’! The fact is that every recent election to both Westminster and Holyrood has failed to show that the people of Scotland either support independence or indeed want a choice over it. If they had, there would have been a clear majority of votes for those parties that supported it, as there was in 1997 for devolution.”
Cost of build-up to referendum mounts even though vote is in doubt
I am pleased that the Scottish Parliament has finally agreed its Budget – partly, of course, because it lifts the uncertainty that was hanging over the ability of our local authority (and the 31 others across Scotland) in being able to set its own budget a week tomorrow.
The degree of willingness to find consensus across the parties in the parliament was positive; as a result we now have a Scottish Budget that is better forScotland than the original SNP proposals.
Tavish Scott has rightly said that politicians need to think beyond tomorrow’s headlines – it is important for people to work hard for long term economic benefits for Scotland, particularly given the challenging economic situation facing the country.
For local public services, the news from the new Budget on school building is positive. The SNP has changed their position on the Scottish Futures Trust. Following pressure from the Liberal Democrats, the government has now agreed to provide a new funding stream to restart school building in Scotland to supplement the limited building possible through conventional prudential borrowing.
Local authorities and the construction industry have heavily criticised the government for paralysing investment and planning for new schools, so moves towards a proper programme of support for school building is to be welcomed.
The SNP has also changed their position and will now engage with the Calman Commission on devolution. This is the best way to get additional fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament, which if delivered could allow for major capital projects such as the planned additional Forth Bridge crossing to be paid for without jeopardising every other transport project in Scotland.
Professor John Curtice told the BBC on Sunday that this concession could be the “most interesting long-term consequence of all of this.”
The consensus in Edinburgh will hopefully be mirrored on Dundee City Council where it looks increasingly likely that agreement will be possible on the City Council’s Revenue and Capital Budget proposals between the political groups on the Council, making the possibility of freezing the Council Tax in Dundee for a third year in a row becoming deliverable.
There will be a further meeting of political group leaders tomorrow but it is looking very promising that the necessary savings to reach a council tax freeze position may be agreed between the parties, which I think is good news for Dundee Council Taxpayers.
It has undoubtedly been a challenge to ensure that savings are found that achieve such a position, particularly as I think all councillors want to minimise any effect on the quality of the Council’s services, but it is good that agreement now seems likely.
With the passing of the Scottish Budget today, the potential problem of it not being agreed affecting the date when councils set their Council Tax levels has been removed and it is now certain that the Council Tax will be fixed for Dundee on 12th February.
I’m pleased that, earlier this week, the Scottish Parliament backed a LibDem motion – by a margin of 61 to 40 – for HBOS to be given access to a £37 billion rescue fund, arguing it should receive the same treatment as other major banks that have been handed the money.
It further made clear that “losing HBOS corporate headquarters and jobs in Edinburgh would seriously jeopardise the city’s position as a financial centre.”
Mr Scott’s motion concluded that there is “no reason why HBOS should not be able to access UK Treasury recapitalisation and, therefore, liquidity funding on the same basis as other independent banks.”
A secure future for HBOS is vital for Scotland and it was reassuring to see that the majority of Scotland’s parliamentarians grasp that point.
Times, 29 May 2008
“Wednesday, May 27, 2008 may well go down in history as the day the electorate stopped loving Alex Salmond and the Nationalists.”
Times, 29 May 2008
“If Alex Salmond’s worst day in government so far was ‘Wobbly Wednesday’, then yesterday would have to be threadbare Thursday.”
I feel that no amount of huff and puff by Alex Salmond and John Swinney will hereafter disguise the fact that key SNP policies are unravelling. In the long term, running a government based on spin rather than policy substance is a government built on sand.
If I recall correctly, Alex Salmond claimed last May that he was slimming down government, with the creation of Cabinet Secretaries and a slimmed down Cabinet. But, in fact, the SNP government just gets bigger and bigger… It appears virtually all their MSPs are now part of the government.
Mr Frank McAveety: “Will the member take an intervention?”
Joe FitzPatrick: “I would be pleased to take an intervention if the member will talk about Labour’s revaluation policy.”
Mr McAveety: “I would like to talk about—”
Joe FitzPatrick: “No, no, no.”
Mr McAveety: “The member mentioned budgets—”
Joe FitzPatrick: “I am not going to—”
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): “Just one moment. I think that I am in charge here—the last time I looked, I was.”
Joe FitzPatrick: “Sorry.”
The Deputy Presiding Officer: “Are you taking Mr McAveety’s intervention?”
Joe FitzPatrick: “Not if he is not prepared to talk about—”
The Deputy Presiding Officer: “You either take it or you do not.”
The Presiding Officer: Fifty-five members voted against. What did I say?
The Presiding Officer: Oh well, you know what I am like with numbers by now. [Laughter.]
“It is clear that the events of the election night in May should not have happened and must never happen again.”
(Debate on the Gould Report, 10 January 2008)
For once I actually agree with an SNP Minister! And at the rate the SNP is ditching its election promises the outcome of the 2011 parliamentary election will be very different.