Scotland budget: Council funding asks would see NHS 'starved of resources', says John Swinney

Scotland’s health service would be left starved of resources if extra UK Government funding was used to help councils plug a £1 billion shortfall, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has said.

John Swinney, who is also the acting finance secretary, said he recognised the “gravity” of the financial challenge facing local authorities, but stressed he could not do everything asked of him.

He said Scotland faced the “most challenging budget circumstances since devolution”. The Scottish Budget, which outlines spending for the coming year, will be published on Thursday next week.

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Local authority leaders previously warned job losses in councils were “inevitable” and services would be cut unless extra money could be found to meet a £1 billion shortfall. Cosla, which represents Scotland’s councils, fears without additional cash from the Scottish Government, authorities will be “struggling to deliver even the basic, essential services that communities rely on”.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney

Finance directors from all 32 Scottish local authorities last week wrote an “unprecedented” letter to Mr John Swinney to highlight their “immediate concerns”.

Speaking in Holyrood, Mr Swinney said he had already taken the unprecedented step of making an emergency budget statement to Parliament to re-prioritise more than £1.2bn of expenditure. He said ministers "took a conscious decision to protect local government and the funding available to councils actually increased".

Scottish Labour MSP Mark Griffin asked if Mr Swinney would commit to looking again at the spending plans for councils.

Mr Swinney said: "I do recognise the gravity of the financial challenge. I'm faced by that every day in what I'm wrestling with in the Scottish Government's Budget just now, in dealing with the profound implications of inflation, public sector pay and energy costs."

He said council finance directors had asked that Barnett consequentials from the UK Government "are targeted to support the vital services that local government provide". The Barnett formula is the way the UK Government allocates a share of funding to the devolved administrations based on spending in England.

Mr Swinney said: "If I followed that, that would mean there wouldn't be any extra money given to the health service, and I don't for a minute believe that's Mr Griffin's position.

"I've got to take a balanced position. So I can't do everything that's asked of me in this letter, because it would be impractical to do so. It would starve the health service of resources, and I don't think anyone in Parliament wants that to be the case."

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