Spending Review (Trade Union Involvement)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 16th September 2010.

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Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 12:00 pm, 16th September 2010

To ask the First Minister what discussions the Scottish Government has had with trade unions on the implications of the forthcoming 2010 spending review. (S3F-2558)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

We face cuts in the Scottish budget, which are being imposed on us by Whitehall. We are clear that the cuts go too fast and too deep. It is also clear that although the coalition Government inherited two thirds of the cuts, it is responsible for adding the remaining third.

If the United Kingdom Government persists in making those cuts, the cuts will affect everyone in Scotland, either as users or as providers of public services. Against that difficult background, we have had and will continue to have positive and constructive discussions with the trade unions on the challenging issues. Our shared aim is to reduce as far as we can the disruption that Whitehall's cuts will inevitably cause to people in Scotland.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that although the majority of cuts were imposed by the previous, Labour Administration after its disastrous financial mismanagement, the cuts that the Tory-Lib Dem coalition proposes go too far and too fast and will undermine many jobs throughout the country?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I absolutely agree with Brian Adam. Particularly in light of Johann Lamont's questions, it is worth reminding ourselves that £2 out of every £3 of the cuts that the coalition Government is planning were first planned by the Labour Government. Labour members would do well to remember that when they discuss the matter in future.

The most worrying cut that we face is the massive cut in capital spending, which was planned by the Labour Government. The Scottish Government has worked hard to increase and accelerate capital investment, particularly in housing, to protect jobs in the construction and other sectors. The looming cut in capital spending puts that work at risk, and Labour cannot escape responsibility for it.

Photo of John Park John Park Labour

Most of the unions that I have spoken to predict a period of job losses across the public sector in Scotland. Can the Deputy First Minister confirm that the Government's policy of no compulsory redundancies in Scottish Government departments will continue during the next period? Will she also clarify what steps the Scottish Government will take during the next few months and years to ensure that voluntary redundancy is maximised across the public sector and that compulsory redundancies are minimised?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I thank John Park for his question and the constructive tone in which he asked it. Everyone in the public sector, and throughout Scotland, is extremely aware of the pressures on public sector head count because of the economic circumstances that we face. In this comprehensive spending review period, the Government has had a policy of no compulsory redundancies, which I know has been important in the health service. As the member is aware, the Government cannot take final decisions about the next spending review until we hear the details of it on 20 October. However, that will be considered in the round. There are a variety of voluntary redundancy schemes in different parts of the public sector throughout Scotland. However, I echo and endorse the tenets of John park's question, which is that we want to avoid compulsory redundancies.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Given the situation inherited from Labour, what level of cuts in public spending would not be too far, too fast?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

David McLetchie should reflect on the fact that it is not just this Government that says that the cuts planned by the coalition Government go too far, too fast; that is also the view of the International Monetary Fund. A possible point of agreement between the two sides of the chamber is that we know that the economic mess that we face was created by the previous, Labour Government. While there is no doubt that that has to be managed, we believe that the cuts are too far and too fast and that they jeopardise economic recovery and jobs. For that reason, they should be opposed.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Last week, the First Minister told Parliament that there should be no reductions at all in the Scottish budget. On Tuesday, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth told the Finance Committee that there was no doubt that there should be reductions in the Scottish budget, owing to the unprecedented level of debt in the United Kingdom. Who does the Deputy First Minister agree with, the First Minister or the finance secretary?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

In all seriousness, Jeremy Purvis cannot suggest that anyone in this Government says that the deficit does not have to be dealt with. Everyone agrees that the deficit has to be dealt with. The question is what timescale should apply to that, and at what pace it should happen. I believe that the cuts proposed by the coalition Government—which, let us not forget, includes the Liberal Democrats—go too far, too fast. The IMF, for example, proposed far less than the UK Government is proposing. If the UK Government was seriously interested in protecting jobs and economic recovery, it would reconsider its plans.