McCabe keeps budget plans secret for fear of backlash
Key quote: "Full disclosure of the report or indeed any section of it ... prior to the SR07 announcement in September 2007 could inhibit ministerial consideration of options for SR07 by increasing pressure on ministers to rule out contentious options at an early date because of adverse public reaction." Jacqueline Moody, from the Executive's finance and central services department
THE finance minister has ordered civil servants to keep a comprehensive review of the Executive's 31 billion budget secret until after the Holyrood elections because it contains details of controversial policies which might provoke "adverse public reaction".
Tom McCabe has gone back on a promise to publish the results of a "baseline" budget review so he can take spending decisions "without external pressure", one of his officials has revealed.
The admission that the report has been suppressed because ministers fear the public reaction was last night seized upon by the Nationalists, who demanded the document should be published before the Holyrood poll next May.
Mr McCabe's reasons for keeping the review - conducted by Bill Howat, chief executive of Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar - under wraps was revealed by one of his senior officials.
Jacqueline Moody, from the Executive's finance and central services department, told John Swinney, the SNP's finance spokesman, that it would be kept secret while ministers prepared for the 2007 spending review, known as SR07.
This process, which will put in place the Executive's spending plans until 2011, partly depends on knowing the amount of money allocated to Scotland by the Treasury in London.
In a letter to Mr Swinney, Ms Moody says: "Full disclosure of the report or indeed any section of it ... prior to the SR07 announcement in September 2007 could inhibit ministerial consideration of options for SR07 by increasing pressure on ministers to rule out contentious options at an early date because of adverse public reaction."
She adds: "Later publication will enable ministers to make best use of the investment made in the review by giving them time to work thoroughly through the advice and implications of the different options without external pressure."
Mr Howat's group was told to identify spending programmes that did not match the partnership agreement priorities of the Labour and Lib Dem coalition or were not performing well.
The review was also told to propose action and outline the implications of any proposed changes - likely to include significant cuts in some spending programmes.
Mr Swinney said: "To allow the public to make a proper judgment of the performance of the Executive, it is essential that this report is published well in advance of the elections.
"The fact that they are hiding the contents of the report is an indication that they are embarrassed by their record and unwilling to open themselves up to full scrutiny."
An Executive spokeswoman said that when Mr McCabe had promised the report would be published in spring, he also said that was "not set in stone".
She added: "The Executive will publish the report as part of the background information that informed our decisions when we announce the outcome of the spending review in September 2007.
"Early indications are that the next spending review will be a time of lower growth in public spending, so ministers will need to make careful choices.
"The budget review report will be invaluable as a source of information and advice. Later publication provides ministers with the time to explore all the options and their implications in private."
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