Efficiency Savings

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party 11:40 am, 4th December 2008

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will quantify the cuts that would be required to local government and other services in Ochil were they to meet the United Kingdom Government efficiency savings target of 3 per cent. (S3O-5107)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Following the pre-budget report, our 2010-11 allocation is due to be cut by around £129 million as a consequence of changes to the United Kingdom Department of Health's budget. We also face a further cut, based on our Barnett share of a £5 billion reduction in UK departmental spending in 2010-11 and in 2011-12. Taken together, there is the potential for a £1 billion reduction in Scottish expenditure, of which £500 million is likely to fall in the current spending review period. Such a cut would have a significant negative effect on public services in Scotland.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that there is a growing tide of concern and anger about new Labour's cuts in public services, whether through the lowest ever increase in the Scottish block grant from London; new Labour in Scotland's 3 per cent cuts, as outlined by Wendy Alexander; or the straight £1 billion cut to which the cabinet secretary just referred, which was announced by Alistair Darling. Does he agree that that anger is most keenly felt among local councils, voluntary groups and those who rely on those organisations for vital services?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

As Mr Brown will know, the Scottish Government has worked extremely hard to put in place a financial framework that provides a growing share of the Scottish block of expenditure to local government, and a rising amount of support for the voluntary and third sector within Scotland. We recognise that those priorities are important, because the third sector and local authorities contribute significantly to the delivery of public services in Scotland.

It is clear that we will face a significant amount of public spending pressure in 2010-11, which has been inflicted on us because of a reduction in the budget that we expected, in good faith, to have at our disposal. As a consequence, there will be a great deal of concern in communities throughout Scotland. The Scottish Government will do everything in its power to change the mind of the United Kingdom Government on this question and to ensure that our priorities adequately support the Government's aspirations to make Scotland a more successful country.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that if any Scottish Government departments or agencies, or health boards, begin to report efficiency outturns that are nearing or more than 3 per cent, the Scottish Government will not request that they artificially lower those outturns to be nearer 2 per cent to suit political purposes?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

As Mr Purvis will have noticed from some of the outputs in the efficient government programme, different areas of public service already exceed the efficiency savings targets that have been set for them. The crucial difference between that programme and the situation that we face as a consequence of the decisions that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the pre-budget report is that we have the ability to reinvest the resources from that programme in public services in Scotland. What the chancellor announced in the pre-budget report is simply a reduction in the resources that the Scottish Government believed, in good faith, we had at our disposal. That will have a negative effect on public services in Scotland.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Is it not the case that there are both cash and time-releasing savings for the United Kingdom but only cash-releasing savings for Scotland, with the consequence that our public services are suffering real cuts now?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

No, is the short answer to that. The Scottish Government has set out an efficiency savings programme. Later this afternoon, I will e-mail Jackie Baillie the definition of efficiency savings and what counts as efficiency savings in Scotland, so that she can fully understand the high standards that must be achieved before efficiency savings can be deemed to have been reached in Scotland. Of course, we reinvest those resources in the public services of Scotland. The significant difference between our position and that of the UK Government is that it has simply removed money from the allocation that we believed we had at our disposal—that is a cut.