Draft Budget 2014-15

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

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Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I thank witnesses for their evidence, the clerks for their support and other committees for the evidence that they provided the Finance Committee with—as others in the Finance Committee will undoubtedly do and as the convener has already done.

I will speak from the perspective of not only a member of the Finance Committee but deputy convener of the Welfare Reform Committee during its budget scrutiny.

As the convener set out, the Finance Committee focused on two main areas: the national performance framework and how it interacts with the budget process; and the preventative spend agenda.

On the NPF, I confess that I have not been particularly engaged in thinking about the Scotland performs website that is associated with it and have not particularly utilised it, so I will need to consider how I do so in the future. However, it is clear that those who are engaged in that area and who think about it like what they see. The cabinet secretary quoted from the Carnegie UK Trust report and set out its perspective. The trust also told the Finance Committee that the NPF is

“a tool of international significance.”—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 9 October 2013; c 3124.]

Donald MacRae said in written evidence that the national performance framework

“deserves strong support and positive endorsement”.

Jeremy Peat said that it is “a remarkable achievement”. The Centre for Public Policy for Regions said in written evidence that

“setting ambitious targets across all the areas identified” in the national performance framework

“is to be commended.”

Therefore, it is clear that the NPF is well-liked by the policy-making community.

Some concern was expressed that the NPF is not particularly well known. When the cabinet secretary was giving evidence to the Finance Committee in Arbroath, he stated that he felt that the NPF is probably “pretty well known” at public leadership level and “probably well known” by the policy-making community. There was a degree of irony in having people before the committee telling us that the NPF is not well known when they are there telling us everything that they know about it because they do in fact know about it.

A more appropriate question than whether the national performance framework is well known is probably whether it is being used as well as it could be. To reflect on my own experience, a number of witnesses and other committees spoke about how the national performance framework could be better linked to spending priorities. I take on board the cabinet secretary’s points about how it would probably be impossible to link every outcome to every pound that has been spent—Gavin Brown made that point, as well—but I wonder how the national performance framework might interact better with the budget process. Perhaps that is as much a matter for Parliament as it is for the Government in setting its budget, and perhaps there is as much an issue for the Parliament in how we use the national performance framework in our budget scrutiny across the committees.

We will have an opportunity to consider that in light of the consultation on the community empowerment and renewal bill, as the cabinet secretary has confirmed that the Government will consult on putting the national performance framework on a statutory footing in that consultation. Perhaps when members consider that bill, we can think about how we might utilise the national performance framework better in future.

The other area is the preventative spend agenda. Obviously, the committee’s assessment builds on previous work in previous years. It is clear that preventative spend has to be a priority for all of us. In an environment in which budgets have been tightened, we must ensure that every pound in the public purse is spent wisely, but we must also, of course, consider that the preventative spend agenda can lead to better outcomes for individuals. Various examples have been cited, such as the older person who wants to stay in their home and not have to go to hospital. Clearly, if we can deliver that, it will be a better outcome for them; and it would be a better outcome for the public purse. Intervening early with a young person who may be in danger of falling into the criminal justice system and keeping them out of jail is also better for them and for the public purse. Therefore, I welcome the change funds that have been delivered to help to achieve that end and look forward to continuing to assess the preventative spend agenda.

I note that the Finance Committee said:

The Committee welcomes the additional money to alleviate the impact of the welfare reforms”.

There was a similar experience at the Welfare Reform Committee, which focused its budget scrutiny work on the Scottish welfare fund and the council tax reduction scheme. As a committee, we commended

“the actions of the Scottish Government in supporting” the Scottish welfare fund

“and protecting the vulnerable”,

and supported the proposed level of funding. On council tax reduction, the committee welcomed

”the steps taken by the Scottish Government and local authorities to work together on the provision of this scheme, which has avoided some of the difficulties being experienced in England and Wales.“

I note that other committees, such as the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee and the Equal Opportunities Committee, have engaged in thinking about the welfare reform agenda. Like the Welfare Reform Committee, they are doing so on a collegiate basis.

I was disappointed that there was a division in the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee. Some members, including the two Labour members, voted against the money that is being delivered for discretionary housing payments. That rather puts in context Iain Gray’s demands now for additional money, as Labour members cannot even welcome the funds that have been delivered.