Douglas Ross clashes with Nicola Sturgeon over IndyRef2
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Nicola Sturgeon’s devolved Scottish Government is making sweeping cuts to fund a public sector pay rise – but is insistent on spending £20million on a second independence referendum bid. The cuts means public services may be scaled down.
SNP finance minister, John Swinney, has said that the Holyrood budget would have to be cut by around £1.2billion pounds in order to settle a larger-than-expected NHS staffing bill.
Threatened with strikes from paramedics, nurses, radiographers and other health workers, he believes the bill has risen to £714million.
Mr Swinney told MSPs the financial situation had worsened since he announced an initial round of £560million in cuts in September. The latest round will see £615million more in savings.
He said: “Inflation is at a 40-year high and the pressure on the finances of households and businesses is acute.
“Public services are facing demands – entirely legitimate demands – to make significantly enhanced pay offers to their staff. As a Government we have a duty to respond.”
However, the SNP MSP said the Scottish Government’s response was “limited” by the UK Government and the “financial restrictions of devolution”.
According to the Scottish Daily Express, most of the savings will come from reapportioning funds already within the social care budget.
Primary care services – which include GPs and pharmacy – will see £65million taken away from them, as well as £38million from mental health services and £116million taken from Covid-related funds.
The Scottish Government will make £21million back from staff reductions, and a further £33million will come from other portfolios. Education, in particular, is expected to lose £3million, and the justice and veterans’ portfolio will lose some £21million, among others.
Devolved ministers reportedly justified the cuts by arguing it would take £37million to fund a proposed 5 percent increase for policing and £260million for local Government workforces.
But Scottish Tory finance spokeswoman Liz Smith MSP said Mr Swinney’s refusal to cut £20million from the indyref pot and other constitutional areas was a sign the SNP prefer “a divisive referendum to practical support measures”.
Ms Smith said the Scottish Government needs to be “focused on the need to support the priorities of Scottish households rather than our own pet projects”, adding: “The current difficult circumstances do not absolve the Deputy First Minister or his colleagues of responsibility for the position Scotland finds itself in after fifteen years of their government.
“So he has now announced yet more huge cuts to health, education and justice. However, he won’t touch the constitution budget.
“He made much of the fixed and finite nature of the Scottish Government’s budget, but the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that he and his colleagues, not the UK Government, bear the responsibility.”
Scottish Labour finance spokesperson Daniel Johnson said Scots were “paying the price for political failure in this budget”.
He added: “Scotland deserves better than these two failing Governments and their disastrous economic illiteracy.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, reacted: “The choices this Government have made are manifestly wrong as well.
“Irrespective of when that £20 million is allocated, we are still spending civil servant time and money on the production of constitutional papers, £17 million on national testing and up to a billion on the ministerial takeover of social care.
“All the while, councils are being squeezed to the pips, long Covid sufferers continue to struggle, and £38 million is being stripped from mental health.”
Mr Swinney stressed the Scottish Government’s budget was now in real terms worth £1.7billion less than it was in December 2021, and defended the Indyref2 spending by saying it would be included in the next budget, rather than the one for this year.
He said: “These savings are not ones we would wish to make, but in the absence of additional funding from the UK Government, we are left with no alternative.
“We must balance the books while prioritising funding to help families, back business, provide fair pay awards and to protect the delivery of public services.”
Mr Swinney’s financial statement came ahead of Jeremy Hunt’s now-delayed budget, which is due to be announced on November 17. However, any changes to tax rates in Scotland will only be considered after the UK Treasury outlines its economic plans.
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