John Swinney: Free care and tuition will pay off
IT HAS sometimes been said of Scotland that we are a rich country but not yet a rich society. That reflects the fact that while we are a nation blessed with abundant resources, too often those resources have not properly benefited all the people of Scotland.
The restoration of our national parliament has gone some way to addressing that paradox, while still falling far short of the powers needed to create a wealthier and fairer society. The Scottish Government has made its choices in successive Budgets by delivering the social contract devolution has enshrined, and we will defend those choices for reasons that are both principled and practical.
The principled reason is that universal benefits ensure people who pay taxes get something back, and promote social cohesion. This is even more important in times of austerity.
But there are also practical reasons for ensuring that universal benefits continue. We have made a strategic decision to move towards preventative spending, which means investing in health and other social policy areas that save public money in the long run.
For example, without free personal care, more older people will end up in hospital, costing the public purse up to £82,000 a year in each case and placing further strain on hospitals. Free prescriptions promote the tackling of chronic, long-term conditions and so help ensure better health. No university tuition fees mean working-class youngsters still get access to education and can make a greater economic contribution to our country.
Our budgets make the hard choices that help pay for these things. Public sector reform is streamlining the way services are delivered and producing efficiencies. That includes our move towards a single police service for the whole of Scotland, creating a more efficient organisation and rationalising backroom functions. That comes with a promise of no compulsory redundancies, while remaining committed to the 1,000 extra officers on the frontline, who have helped drive crime down to a 37-year low.
The Scottish Labour leadership’s critique of universal services fell at the first hurdle, collapsing in a morass of confusion. It is not enough for Labour to say they want an “honest debate”, without having the courage to say where they stand on the issues. The Scottish Government has made its choices. Labour must say where they stand on each of these policies.
We challenge them today to say now, in the context of the parliamentary debate on the draft budget I have prepared for the next year, what charges they would reintroduce, for whom, at what level, and how much money will be saved. They also have to say what they would then spend that money on.
We will be waiting with interest to see if Labour really do see no alternative for Scotland than deciding how to pass on Tory cuts.
• John Swinney is the Scottish finance secretary
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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