Leader comment: Debate needed on cuts to public services

Scottish public services are facing major cuts, according to a report by the Fraser of Allander Institute.
Scottish public services are facing major cuts, according to a report by the Fraser of Allander Institute.
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The prospect of major cuts to public services is unwelcome but sadly inevitable amid the financial challenges Scotland is facing.

As Holyrood prepares to take on greater powers on raising income tax and some areas of social security, the latest report from the Fraser of Allander (FoA) Institute at Strathclyde University will give ministers plenty to think about.

The eminent economists warn that spending reductions could hit £1.6 billion over the next 12 months in the worst case scenario, as uncertainty over Brexit, ongoing welfare reform across the UK and weaknesses in the Scottish economy only cloud the picture further.

It is not an easy time politically to be taking on all these extra powers.

The Scottish budget is still expected to fall in real terms, even in the most optimistic of scenarios.

The findings of the report raise serious questions over whether the Scottish Government will be able to deliver on its ambitious plans for increasing the NHS budget, doubling free childcare provision and protecting the policing budget.

The institute’s director, Professor Graeme Roy, warned there needs to be “substantial re-prioritisation of spend and reform of public services in Scotland”.

This advice should be considered carefully, but there are other things that the Scottish Government can do before it starts wielding the knife over public services.

As the FoA points out, the best way to counter these shortfalls is by growing the Scottish economy, which is currently lagging behind the UK economy.

Austerity doled out by Westminster is hitting hard but this cannot be used as an excuse, as there are still levers that can be pulled north of the border.

Ministers must do all they can to get the economy growing and the new legislation will go some way towards achieving this.

The Scottish Government can also attempt to mitigate cuts from the block grant by putting up taxes, and it can allow councils to put up council tax if they want to raise taxes rather than cutting services.

The solution will probably be a mixture of all these options.

What is more, politicians must be honest about the situation we are in as these problems are not going away.

A widespread debate needs to be had about what public services the people want, and how much they are willing to pay for these services.

Some services are ringfenced to protect their funding, meaning the unprotected areas such as council budgets could face the heaviest cuts.

The public should be given a choice about what areas get cut, as we will all have to live with the difficult consequences for years to come.

These are not easy questions to ask, or indeed to answer, but that is no excuse for failing to try.

Nurse should have our respect

The sight of Pauline Cafferkey, clad in a mask as she was ferried into a military helicopter for her second emergency trip to London for complications from the Ebola virus, is not easily forgotten.

The Scottish nurse has endured countless mental and physical torments since her return from Sierra Leone in 2014, where she was caring for victims of the Ebola virus.

Ms Cafferkey is clearly a brave and selfless woman, who repeatedly put herself in harm’s way to help others.

How many of us would have done the same?

It is a shame she has had to be subject to this hearing by the Nursing and Midwifery Commission (NMC), where she was accused of leaving the screening area at Heathrow without declaring her true temperature, or the fact she had taken paracetamol.

Of course, the safety of the wider public is a major concern but accusations that she acted dishonestly were clearly unjust.

The impact of the devastating virus on her life must have been enormous and it will probably always affect her.

In interviews she has spoken of joint pain, the loss of her hair and the sad fact that she has been unable to work as a nurse, a job she clearly loved.

We may never know exactly what happened at Heathrow, as she returned exhausted from trying to stem the tide of Ebola as it laid waste to Sierra Leone.

However her compassion and selflessness should be rewarded, not criticised, otherwise how else can we expect other aid workers and health professionals to put themselves in these sorts of situations.

We wish her a full recovery and well for the future, whatever it holds for her.