Swinney cuts

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In calling for increased taxes, those who attacked Finance Secretary John Swinney’s cautious budget (Letters, 17 December) ignore the fact that in the Scottish Parliament Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale refused to say she would raise the basic rate of income tax or remove the council-tax freeze next year as a way to mitigate Westminster cuts.

In calling for increased taxes, those who attacked Finance Secretary John Swinney’s cautious budget (Letters, 17 December) ignore the fact that in the Scottish Parliament Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale refused to say she would raise the basic rate of income tax or remove the council-tax freeze next year as a way to mitigate Westminster cuts.

As the Scottish and UK governments have yet to agree on the Scotland Bill fiscal framework, it would be meaningless for the Finance Secretary to project several years ahead when Chancellor George Osborne has had three budgets in 2015 and Westminster still controls the five main taxes that can restructure our economy or provide decent welfare provision.

Last month’s Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) report on the UK Spending Review showed that overall the Departmental Expenditure Limit in Scotland is being cut by 3.9 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20, compared with a 2.2 per cent fall for the UK as a whole. In addition, our health and education authorities need to deal with the draconian interest payments on Labour’s private finance initiative (PFI) debt mountain for many years to come.

Next year local councils are getting an additional £250 million to assist with social services and hospital-bed blocking plus £33m in pupil attainment funding, supporting the £100m Scottish Attainment Challenge, to help close the attainment gap between children in our most and least deprived areas. It’s worth noting that recent Ucas data shows that the chances of pupils from Scotland’s more deprived areas going to university have more than doubled in the past ten years which is the most improved performance in the UK.

There is nothing to stop Labour councils from raising the council tax in order to tackle Westminster austerity cuts at a local level, outside the concordat with Mr Swinney. However, many will remember that Labour raised council tax by 60 per cent in the ten years before the SNP came to power, so I doubt if any council will be brave enough to go for principled opposition.

Fraser Grant

Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh

If John Swinney’s budget represents the SNP’s assessment of the Scottish attitude towards poverty and inequality, and it is accurate, it is obvious that an independent Scotland would be no less neo-liberal than the UK. 

The only hope for the marginalised north of the Border is for the Labour party to be aggressive in its condemnation of the SNP’s regressive strategy of continuing the council-tax freeze and imposing swingeing cuts on local authority funding, the beneficiaries of which are the sick, the disabled, the poor, the unskilled and the unemployed. 

It is time that the SNP’s tactics, aimed at achieving independence and keeping control of Holyrood meantime, be revealed in all their cynicism. 

John Milne

Ardgowan Drive, Uddingston

We have noted the various responses to the budget announcement made by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) and others.

Many social workers would rather pay more tax than see increasing destitution and misery. Can we really “get it right for every child” never mind families and other adults if we don’t equalise our society a bit more? That means higher taxes for some and more security for everyone.

Social workers often go “the extra mile”, and, in the words of The Proclaimers, would walk “500 miles or more”. We have a roadmap in our Scottish Social Services Strategy, chaired by our SNP minister with responsibility for social work. We need the right equipment, regular stops for refreshment, and a finishing line which is bright for those we work with and for.

Many of our members are the social workers who see need for services increase as poverty is worsening, who have to work to ensure children and people in distress and at risk to themselves or others are protected and given the help they need. This is the most complex and challenging area of social work; where the building of a relationship with people may help them achieve better outcomes. This takes time, effort, compassion and skill. Social work team leaders and managers are under enormous pressure, and many new workers have benefited from talking to experienced colleagues when thinking through complex recommendations to hearings or courts. These are the experienced social workers now taking voluntary redundancies as councils are forced to make brutal cuts.

Fewer workers equals more work for fewer professionals, and we are extremely concerned that social workers already feel compromised in terms of adhering to their code of practice and ethics. Most importantly, the most vulnerable people in our society who need someone to be there will not get the help they need and to which they are entitled.

Trisha Hall

Manager, the Scottish Association of Social Work, Edinburgh

John Swinney’s budget was indeed a budget for hard-working families and opposes Westminster’s austerity cuts, a fact the Labour Party appears unwilling to recognise.

For hard-working families, the decision not to increase the basic rate of income tax was very welcome, and for everyone the massive input to the NHS budget is surely welcomed, especially for those who believe in health services being free at the point of need.

But there were some aspects of this budget that were unfortunate impositions, such as having to spend to mitigate the UK government’s bedroom tax, along with the need for an extra £38 million to the Welfare Fund to mitigate the effects of George Osborne’s welfare cuts.

As the Scottish Government promotes policies of social justice for all, mitigating austerity and welfare cuts becomes a necessary obligation for Mr Swinney and the Scottish Government.

Catriona C Clark

Banknock, Falkirk

Joyce McMillan (Perspective, 18 December) rightly says that a fightback from Scotland’s pervasive feeling of impotence must begin at the grassroots through “revitalised” local government.

When I came to St Andrews in 1960 if I had a problem, I went to Provost Niven in his shop and it was sorted, or he would contact John Gilmore, our ever-helpful Tory MP.

Today we are powerless. If neighbours protest a planning lunacy, even if their councillor and regional council agree, any decision will be overturned by some functionary in Edinburgh.

The famous town clerk Sandy Rutherford warned of devolution’s centralising tendencies, saying a Scot only needed three levels of authority: Westminster, a local council and their partner in life.
Far from empowering the grassroots, Mr Swinney passed the buck to Scotland’s councils by taking £350 million out of their coffers and continuing the council tax freeze.

(Rev Dr) John Cameron

Howard Place, St Andrews, Fife

Aberdeen City funding has been cut to the bone yet again by the SNP administration with the lowest per capita grant per head of £1,432 in the whole of Scotland.

It would appear that Mr Swinney is under the false illusion that the streets of Aberdeen city are paved with gold, with oil money flowing everywhere, while the reality is quite different with thousands of pay-offs and expenditure cuts.

It may be that Aberdeen will never get a fair crack of the whip as a mean punishment for the substantial 60 per cent who voted against separation from the UK.

Dennis Forbes Grattan

Mugiemoss Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen

Eton mess

David Cameron thinks he can cut a dash in Europe. Why? Because he was schooled at Eton, it seems. If only he had the educated wit and humility to recognise the fact that the playing-fields of Eton stop abruptly at the white cliffs of Dover. His ignorance of diplomacy is toe-curling in its impossible innocence. The project, never a runner although trumpeted to extinction, is unravelling fast and the double-speak is about to hit the buffers. Is this really called leadership?

Douglas Hogg

Gordon, Berwickshire

Causeway case

With regards to the suggestion of a Forth tunnel to solve the current fiasco: tunnels and bridges are both key terrorist targets and subject to ­damage from earthquakes/flooding/high winds/ice/fog and snow/accidental blockage/poor maintenance, etc and are therefore very, very expensive.

By contrast a six-lane causeway with shipping locks would have proved far safer, cheaper and quicker to build, using only Scottish resources, than the new Queensferry Crossing. It might even protect the Forth Valley from rising sea levels and generate hydro electricty in the tidal flows.

The current high-level road bridges are little more than cripplingly dear vanity projects so beloved by politicians acting freely with taxpayers’ cash (until it comes to paying for adequate maintenance).

Tim Flinn

Garvald, East Lothian

Shot in the foot

The predictable reaction from the bird shooting industry, (18 December), to the report on the illegal killings of birds of prey tells us nothing new. Their all too familiar cry is that the reported number of incidents – which is only the tip of the iceberg – has decreased simply because they have moved away from the more easily detected use of poisoned baits to more insidious forms of persecution such as the burning of golden eagle eyries and the use of gas guns to scare away birds in early spring. So even if these claims of a reduction in persecution were true, why has the breeding population of golden eagles and hen harriers on driven grouse moors in the east and south of Scotland not recovered?

When we see this happening then perhaps we can say that persecution is finally reducing, but not until then. With further measures being contemplated by the government to licence the game shooting industry, it is baffling that it is incapable of policing itself to help prevent a European-style licensing regime being visited upon all country sports, something no-one wants to see.

Logan Steele

Auchterarder, Perthshire

Unnamed experts

We have recently learned that the expert group which was supposed to provide us with all the answers on the contentious named person legislation was quietly disbanded in May 2014.

Those of us waiting for elucidation were surprised and disappointed to hear this.  

So, where are we now in relation to the hard questions? Parents want to know who has the final say if they disagree with the named person on the course of action for their child.

Named persons want to know their legal position if an individual claims at some point in the future that their needs were not met.

And the rest of us want to know what guarantees there will be that the needs of the most vulnerable children will not be overlooked when all children are deemed to be in need of state interference, regardless of their circumstances or the wishes of their parents.

Carole Ford

Former president, School Leaders Scotland,

Terregles Avenue, Glasgow

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