Public services are being crushed by a lack of resources and high expectations – Scotsman comment

An open and honest conversation is necessary about what we want from the police, NHS and other public services and how much we are prepared to pay

The decision by the Metropolitan Police to stop sending officers to deal with emergency mental health incidents unless there is an “immediate threat to life” has produced a chorus of criticism. But, regrettable as it is, the primary responsibilities of the police are to keep us safe and fight crime. If the ‘thin blue line’ is being overly stretched, they have no other choice but to reform their lines.

The NHS is another example of a public service under huge pressure. They are asked to meet whatever demands are made by the public, but are struggling to do so with the available staff and resources. In the latest such report, a nurse has spoken of working 13-hour shifts, staff shortages, and patients pressing a buzzer for help only to find there is no one to come. NHS compensation payouts in Scotland rose from £24.5 million in 2018 to nearly £55m in 2021 and, if demoralised staff continue to be given too much work, those figures are only likely to increase.

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Council services are also being stretched to breaking point by a lack of funding, coupled with expectations about fixing potholes, collecting rubbish and more. This was not helped by the SNP’s decision to freeze council tax, which Labour has pointed out means that the most valuable homes pay £600 a year less than the equivalent properties in England.

There are a number of options. Like the Metropolitan Police, services can cut their cloth so they do less, but to a higher standard. Or government can decide to increase their funding, through tax rises or by cutting other spending. The problem with increasing taxes is there is already a significant difference between Scotland and England. And higher rates can also dampen economic growth and do not necessarily mean higher revenues.

The best way forward may require some hard, pragmatic choices by both services and taxpayers, but there needs to be an open and honest discussion about what we want and can afford. To continue to demand comprehensive services of the highest standard while failing to provide the necessary resources is delusional and a recipe for disaster.