As we speak, the pipes and drums are playing, the crowds are lining Princes Street and saltires are waving in the air. I hope that the First Minister will not be too disappointed when he finds out that they are not there for him.
Talking of the First Minister, when he announced a bonfire of the quangos three years ago he said:
"That means smaller, fitter and better government—more money for the people's priorities".
We learn this week that, since he said that, we have 3,000 fewer teachers but an additional 1,400 bureaucrats are employed in central Government core staff. In the same period, the cost of quangos has soared by more than £600 million a year. When is the SNP Government going to do what it promised and cut the cost of the quango state?
Let me say to Murdo Fraser that some of what he has quoted is simply not accurate, but I will come back to that in a second. First, let me remind him that this Government has exceeded by some considerable margin its efficient government savings. It has reduced by more than 25 per cent the number of devolved public sector bodies, delivering substantial savings for reinvestment in front-line services.
On the core civil service numbers that Murdo Fraser quoted, he should reflect on the fact that they reflect the transfer from one part of Government to another of the Scottish Court
This Government is absolutely committed to the importance of reducing the cost of administration. The core administration budget in the Scottish Government has reduced by £14 million, which is right in these difficult financial times.
This is not about the number of quangos or the number of brass plates on doors; it is about their total cost, which has gone up year on year. John Swinney has promised that he will save £39 million a year from quangos, but that comes nowhere near the massive increase in the cost of our quangos of £600 million in three years. Alex Salmond promised smaller, fitter and better government, but the quango state is alive and well with the SNP. Will Alex Salmond's legacy be a bigger, bloated bureaucracy?
I had hoped that this would be one of the relatively few areas in which the Government and the Conservatives could find some common cause. We all recognise the importance of directing as much taxpayers' money as possible to the front line in these difficult financial times, and we will always look at how we can do better. However, the Government has a proud record. In addition to the achievements that I mentioned in my first answer, we can cite the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill. We are slimming down the public sector in terms of quangos, and we have reduced the number of ministers from the number under the previous Administration. For the past two years, we have had a ministerial pay freeze, and we are constraining salaries at the upper end of the civil service. Let me say in the spirit of consensus that I am sure that there is always more that we can do, but I hope that the Conservatives will acknowledge the real progress that this Government has made.