Budget statements in any Parliament should be listened to with scepticism. It is the analysis which follows that reveals the truth.
My general contention is that the Scottish Government’s priorities are overdue for a Comprehensive Spending Review. Contrary to myth-making, they are very well financed – more so as a result of this year’s huge Barnett consequentials.
Within that context, the treatment of local government has been an absolute disgrace. As the Scottish Parliament Information Centre revealed (and surely only the most paranoid regard that as a tainted source), the Scottish Government cut council budgets by 7.1 per cent between 2013 and 2018 while its own reduced by only 1.3 per cent – creating a shortfall of £800 million.
So what has happened this time? According to Spice, “the core local government revenue settlement falls in real terms by £319m (-3.4 per cent)”. This is outrageous – as is Derek Mackay’s attempt to conceal the figure.
According to Patrick Harvie, normally the SNP’s Green fig-leaf, Mr Mackay “has a brass neck trying to pass off hundreds of millions of pounds in council cuts as a funding increase”. Well, better late than never for that penny to drop.
What does this mean in the real world? Once again this week, we had disastrous education statistics with almost a third of Scottish children coming out of primary school without the expected attainment levels in literacy and numeracy.
Education is by far the biggest-ticket item in council budgets and, for the past decade, it has been pure “brass neck” to claim that education is the highest priority while systematically undermining the means of providing it to Scotland’s children.
We are told that low income families in Scotland will benefit by 20 quid from Mr Mackay’s tax tinkering. Well, big deal – when every public service on which the least well-off rely disproportionately is being cut or charged for, due to this sleekit vendetta against local government.
If Holyrood’s opposition cannot unite to cancel this entire, latest £319m cut, it would be as well packing up and going home.