Scottish Election 2021: Scottish Labour accused of 'largesse' and no clarity on costs

Scottish Labour has been criticised for failing to produce a fully-costed election manifesto, despite pledging to spend £4.5bn on Covid recovery.

A review of commitments made by Anas Sarwar’s party, by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, concludes the manifesto “contains an enormous number of pledges” and “largesse” but no clarity on how they would be paid for.

On NHS spending the assessment by the IFS is that despite “numerous promises and ambitions… there is no stated plan for medium- to long-term NHS funding” while on jobs it says the offer is “unprecedented in the UK” and delivering on the pledge would require a “substantial top-up to the Scottish Government’s block grant by the UK government”.

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It also criticises the party for failing to be “clear” on how it would deliver its promises on childcare and says given the “likely cost of Labour’s many spending commitments” tax rises are “inevitable”, despite Labour pledging not to raise income tax for anyone earning less than £100,000.

Anas Sarwar's manifesto has been criticised for a lack of clarity on costs.

Further it describes Labour’s plans to introduce a new payment of £159 a year for all households containing someone aged 75 or over, ostensibly to cover the cost of a TV licence, as well as benefit increases and additional payments to students and the unemployed as “largesse” and adds: "The question – left unanswered – is how they would be paid for.”

Describing the manifesto as a “strange beast”, Christine Farquharson, a senior research economist at the IFS who works on public spending, said “It’s more a plan for the next 18 months and then for the next decade or more, rather than a five-year parliamentary term.”

She added: “On a range of issues, it reflects the seeming consensus in Scottish politics: doubling the Scottish child payments, universal free school lunches for primary school aged children, and scrapping non-residential social care charges, to name a few.

“Where it stands out more is on the scale of short-term spending and longer-term ambitions. Other parties also set out short-term stimulus and recovery measures, but Labour’s dwarf them, and its one-off Jobs for Recovery scheme, guaranteeing six months of public sector employment for many of those out of work, is unprecedented in the UK.”

Ms Farquharson said it was also “unprecedented in the UK” to eventually extend funded childcare entitlements to 50 hours a week, every week, for all children.

“This would mean, near enough, that all formal childcare is paid for by the government,” she said. “It is a mark of the scale of Labour’s promises that such a big reform doesn’t even feature as one of the party’s top pledges in the manifesto document.

“How this would all be paid for is not at all clear. The manifesto’s short-term plans exceed the Scottish Government’s unallocated funding for this year, and wouldn’t be deliverable without additional UK government funding.

"Longer-term plans would also require tax rises – not only affecting those earning over £100,000 – or a very substantial loosening of the purse strings by the UK government.”

Responding to the IFS analysis Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said: “We are glad the IFS have acknowledged the scale and ambition of our plans – when we say Labour is focused on a national recovery, we mean it.

“The last year has seen considerable funds made available for the health crisis – we cannot afford to be timid in response. These plans are ambitious because of the scale of the task ahead.”

He added: “We funded our recovery plans within the best of our knowledge of the consequentials available. But, as with all of their budgetary processes, the SNP have not been fully transparent about what has been allocated already.

“As well as the current Covid-19 consequentials, the UK government has a significant amount of funding in reserve, some of which we expect to come to Scotland for spending by the Scottish Government.

“We will ensure every penny is spent on supporting our communities, businesses and public services in recovery and not on more constitutional division.”

However opposition parties were quick to accuse Labour of offering promises the party could not keep.

Scottish Conservative candidate for Glasgow, Annie Wells, said: “It looks like Labour have dusted off the Jeremy Corbyn playbook. The IFS are scathing in their analysis. Labour’s plans are undeliverable in the short-term and long-term, they would require enormous hidden tax hikes.

“This is a damning verdict that spells out Labour has “no sense” of how to pay for any of it – and they won’t even be honest about the tax bombshell they would force onto working families.

“The scale of their fantasy spending pledges only confirms that they are irrelevant now and they know it themselves, so they didn’t bother writing a credible and costed manifesto.”

SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said there was a “blackhole” in Labour’s figures.

She added: “The manifesto Labour published today shows they are all talk and no action when it comes to recovery.

“Our NHS has endured so much throughout the pandemic and Scottish Labour cannot even commit to maintaining frontline spending over the parliament, when increased investment is going to be vital if the NHS is to be remobilised and get back on its feet.

“What Labour fail to understand is that it is not good enough to make claims about recovery if you don’t put the money in to pay for it. There is simply no substance to their campaign."

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