While some commentators have argued an overall underspend of £444 million as the final outturn for the Scottish Government’s 2013/14 financial year is relatively trivial in percentage terms (1.5 per cent), the issue seemed to be important enough for an explanatory letter from the Deputy First Minister (Letters, 16 January).
In his note, John Swinney explained that the £444m underspend contains variances in Annual Managed Expenditure programmes, over which he has no control, and non-cash items including depreciation and impairments.
Unfortunately, he does not explain how he arrived at the “true underspend of £145m” – a figure that does not appear in the official Outturn Report by the Scottish Government Finance Directorate laid before the Scottish Parliament in December 2014.
John Swinney then relates – incorrectly in my view – the £145m to the total Scottish Govermment budget, which does include Annual Managed Expenditure programmes and technical items, to arrive at a new underspend of 0.5 per cent.
He goes on to assure us that £145m will “be carried into the next year” and therefore remains available to “support people in Scotland”.
Arguably, some of the people in Scotland could have benefitted from spending as budgeted at the right time, rather than next year. I am thinking of the teachers and pupils at Scotland’s 363 secondary schools who had to cope with the first exam diet under the new curriculum, in parallel to the old format.
According to the Final Outturn, the underspend in Education alone amounted to £165m (5.5 per cent of £3bn) or £450,000 for each of the secondary schools in Scotland.
Douglas Turner (Letters, 16 January) is right in suggesting that I can’t get my head round the Deputy First Minister’s explanation of the figure of £444 million (or should it be £413m?) published in the Final Outturn report in relation to last year’s budget underspend.
However, he apparently failed to notice my comments were not based on a figure of £444m nor on the initial estimate in June of £179m but on Mr Swinney’s own finally adjusted figure of £145m. Mr Swinney claimed he’d invest “every penny” at his disposal to “mitigate the impact of Westminster cuts” and he specifically referred to the cuts to Scotland’s schools and hospitals.
And yet from 2013 to 2014 he himself managed to fail to spend – not pennies – but an unknown number of millions of pounds allocated to the education and health budgets. Why?
Braid Hills Avenue