THE finance ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have united to warn that UK Government spending cuts are moving “too fast and too far”.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Arlene Foster of the Northern Ireland Executive and Jane Hutt of the Welsh Government have issued a joint statement raising concerns that continuing austerity measures pose a risk to public services.
In a letter to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands, they call for an urgent meeting in advance of the Government’s forthcoming spending review.
The letter said: “The three devolved administrations share the view that the UK Government’s ongoing austerity plans, reflected in both the in-year spending reductions announced on June 4 and in the Summer Budget, continue to reduce public spending in the UK too fast and too far, and present unnecessary risks to our public services.
“We also share the view that the UK Government’s plans were developed and communicated in an unsatisfactory way, with neither advance notice nor apparent consideration of the implications for the devolved administrations.”
They also raise concerns about the timing of the spending review expected in the autumn.
“The planned announcement date of November 25 leaves very little time for setting our own budgets before the beginning of 2016-17, presenting us with significant operational challenges and potentially constraining the time available for respective parliamentary and assembly processes,” the letter states.
“There will in addition be considerable difficulties for our delivery bodies and stakeholders who will have little notice of their future allocations.”
Mr Swinney said: “The UK Government’s broken austerity programme is reducing household income, damaging economic confidence and weakening public finances. That represents a clear threat to our public services.
“The recent Budget was misguided and deeply unfair, with disproportionate cuts falling on the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society while giving tax breaks to the better-off.
“The three devolved administrations agree that ongoing austerity presents unnecessary risks to our public services.”
A Treasury spokeswoman said Mr Hands met regularly with the finance ministers of the devolved administrations and would continue to engage with them in the lead up to the spending review.
She said: “The Government’s long-term economic plan is working: Britain was the fastest growing economy in the G7 in 2014 and 2015 and the deficit has been more than halved.
“However it is still too high - at just under 5%, it is one of the highest in the OECD - and it is no surprise to anyone that the Government has clear plans to deal with it.
“The spending review will set out the savings needed for the country to live within its means.”