Draft Budget 2014-15

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th December 2013.

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Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

I look forward to seeing the Government’s written response to the Finance Committee’s report. The cabinet secretary makes a fair suggestion. He has thrown down the gauntlet to committees and others. Although I would not say that there are no linkages whatever, I think that they could certainly be improved.

Another recommendation on the NPF that it is worth looking at is recommendation 37, which states:

The Committee would welcome clarification in relation to how Scotland Performs will be embedded within the policy-making community across the public sector including the Scottish Government.”

I have no doubt that there are sections of the Scottish Government and of the wider policy-making community that look at the NPF in detail, but the flavour of the evidence that the committee received was that Scotland performs is not embedded in that community and that we need to think about ways of ensuring that that happens to a greater extent in future.

In his remarks, the convener also touched on the NPD programme that the committee took evidence on. We discussed it with the cabinet secretary and, indeed, with the Scottish Futures Trust. The figures, of course, are laid out in the appendix to the budget document and show that, in this financial year, the spend will go from £338 million down to £185 million, which was predicted. Next year there will be a reduction from £973 million to £809 million.

The Scottish Government said to us initially in the budget statement that the changes were partially to do with savings and partially to do with delay. Subsequent to that, the Government has suggested that the balance will be more to do with delay than with savings. What we do not know at this stage is what percentage of the change is down to delay and what percentage is down to savings.

Any reduction in spend due to savings is to be welcomed, in our view; any reduction due to delay is clearly not to be welcomed. I ask the Government either to get back to us today or to get back to the committee on what percentage is down to delay as opposed to savings. Indeed, while we are at it—now that we are eight months through the financial year 2013-14—the Government could say where are we in relation to the £185 million that was predicted to be the case in September. We are two thirds of the way through the financial year. Is two thirds of the construction spend happening? Are we likely to hit that or, indeed, to be over it or under it? Also, how will the Government address that going forward, as suggested by the convener?

I want to touch on one other issue. We looked at business rates over the course of the inquiry and there is just one question that I want to put to the Government at this stage. The Scottish Government has central projections for business rates. It believes that it will be £2.688 billion for 2014-15. It predicted £2.435 billion for 2013-14. What impact do the recent announcements have on those projections, because they are going up by 2 per cent instead of 3.2 per cent? Clearly, that will reduce them slightly but growth is projected to be higher than it was previously—it is projected to be 1.4 per cent this year and 2.4 per cent next year. What impact will that have on the projections for business rates? We would certainly welcome any update on that from the Government.