£145m is the true underspend

The Scottish Government firmly believes Scotland will prosper best when all revenue raised here stays here.

Meantime, there is an obligation upon us to ensure what funds the UK Government does allocate to Edinburgh are managed responsibly. That’s why this government ensures that we put every penny we receive towards improving the lives of people in Scotland.

In contrast, Brian Wilson’s comments (Perspective, 10 January) betray the same problems understanding ­public spending that must have bedevilled the Labour Party when they managed Scotland’s finances.

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Mr Wilson’s colleagues managed to forget to spend £700 million in one year and left more than £1 billion in a Treasury bank account which could have supported our economy and public services.

Thankfully the SNP secured the release of that money.

I can assure Brian Wilson, and your readers, that if the £444m of underspend he ­refers to was all money over which I had control, then every penny of it would be being invested properly to mitigate the impact of ­Westminster cuts and welfare reforms.

The £444 million underspend against the annual accounts-based budget, ­reported in the Final Outturn Report and in the media last week, also reflects variances in Annual Managed Expenditure programmes and other technical non-cash accounting budgets – for example depreciation and impairments.

So such underspends therefore do not reflect a missed opportunity to spendmore on public services – much as Mr Wilson and his Labour ­colleagues try to claim otherwise. The reality is that the fiscal underspend the Scottish Government has available from 2013-14 to invest in public services is only 0.5 per cent of our budget, or £145 million.

Far from keeping it a secret, I announced it to Parliament in June, and confirmed that it would be carried into the next year – and that every penny would be allocated to support people in ­Scotland.

On top of that, some £31 million of financial transactions was also brought forward to support vital investment in housing and regeneration. This is funding restricted by Treasury rules and can only be used for the provision of loans or equity investment beyond the public sector and has to be repaid to HM Treasury in ­future years.

We agree that Scotland’s schools and hospitals are worthy of the best possible levels of investment and, until we are responsible for our own financial affairs, they deserve better than the successive real-term cuts to which Scotland’s budget has been subject and which the Labour Party clearly intend to continue.


Deputy First Minister