Public services ‘kept in dark’ as SNP delays budget

JOHN Swinney’s plan to delay publication of the Scottish Budget will leave public services in the dark over how much they will get to spend, Labour has warned.

John Swinney will wait for UK spending plans to be revealed. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
John Swinney will wait for UK spending plans to be revealed. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
John Swinney will wait for UK spending plans to be revealed. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

The SNP Deputy First Minister and finance secretary intends to hold back with his draft Budget until after the UK Government has announced details of its spending review near the end of the year.

The decision by the SNP has been attacked by Scottish Labour who fear it will give less opportunity to scrutinise the actions of Scottish ministers.

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Scottish Labour public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP always complain they can’t take action because they don’t have the power yet here they are delaying making decisions with the new financial powers they have. This will be the first time the SNP can set a Scottish rate of income tax.

“An attempt to rush the budget though Holyrood means it won’t get the level of scrutiny it needs – what does the SNP Government have to hide?

“Most importantly of all, it leaves those who provide crucial public services like our schools, hospitals and social care in the dark and without the certainty they need to plan their own budgets for next year.”

A spokesman for the Scottish local government body Cosla said that it was “highly unlikely” it would receive information about its allocation in the normal timescale.

He said: “We anticipate figures in late December or early January based on timescales for previous spending reviews, which in terms of financial planning and decision making is not the ideal situation.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The later than expected 2015 UK spending review publication means that we will not know what block grant will be available to Scottish ministers until November 2015, although it is clear that we face significant further austerity over the coming years.

“Scottish ministers will publish their forward spending plans following the outcome of the UK spending review.”

The spending review could see departmental cuts of up to 40 per cent in Whitehall as Tory ministers attempt to bring spending down to bring down the deficit.

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With schools and health spending likely to be protected in England, the allocation going to Scotland should also be shielded from the worst of the cuts.

However, uncertainty remains over Scotland’s allocation, further complicated by the effects of devolving more tax powers north of the Border with the introduction of a Scottish income tax rate next year likely to be extended in 2017.

In a statement, the Treasury said: “Our long term plan has created the conditions under which Scotland as part of the UK is thriving.

“All parts of the UK now need to play their part in helping to eliminate the deficit, run a surplus and ensure Britain lives within its means.

“The spending review, which will be set out on 25 November, is the next step in this plan.”