Spending-plans trio have a tricky task

IT IS Scotland's Star Chamber, or the Troika with an Axe. But dare the Scottish Government enact its recommendations for bringing Scotland's public spending under control? That is the critical question overhanging the announcement yesterday of the three-strong independent panel charged with finding ideas and solutions to the "significantly constrained public spending environment".

The three lack for nothing in experience and qualifications. Crawford Beveridge, a former chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, will be in the chair. He will be joined by Sir Neil McIntosh, the former chief executive of Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council and Strathclyde Regional Council, and Robert Wilson, a partner at Deloitte Consulting.

The panel, set up as part of a deal to secure Conservative support for the budget, has a massive task ahead of it in setting public spending priorities and proposing ways forward for reductions.

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To be expected to come up with a review from a standing start by the end of July is pushing the boundaries of plausibility. The best that can be hoped for under such a timetable is an outline of public spending projections and where spending growth would need to be staunched while not cutting deeply into core services.

Obvious areas for early action would be pay and pensions. Finding ways to improve public sector productivity will also be an early concern. Even allowing for obvious improvements here, the troika has its work cut out.