I commend the Finance Committee, which has been particularly methodical, thorough and persistent in the pursuit of issues that might otherwise go unobserved by the public and the Parliament.
The exchange between Gavin Brown and John Swinney was instructive and we might have a reasonable way forward on the links between policies, inputs and outcomes. I hope that in future more such links can be made, although I acknowledge John Swinney’s point that taking the approach to the nth degree might be an all-consuming task that would not give value for money.
I was interested in the part of the report that dealt with the Scottish Futures Trust, which has been held up as the cure for our economic woes. It is just as well that we were not relying on the SFT to deliver economic recovery, because it has been disappointingly slow at getting through the NPD programme. The 2013-14 figures show reductions from £696 million to £338 million and then to £185 million, which is incredibly disappointing, because I thought that we had got over the difficulties that the Government had discovered with the NPD programme. The extra 1.3 million jobs—110,000 in Scotland—and the economic growth that is emerging do not have much to do with the SFT.
I am grateful to the committee for highlighting the division between savings and delayed spending. It is clear that it is more about delayed spending than it is about cost savings. It is important that we understand the split between the two.
I do not want to bring conflict into the debate. Like Malcolm Chisholm, I want to ensure that we engage seriously on the budget. I like to think that John Swinney and I have engaged constructively in previous budget rounds and I will ensure that our objectives are set out again this year. I have with me a copy of a letter that is winging its way to John Swinney’s office this afternoon, which sets out clearly what we think the objectives for this budget should be.
Mr Swinney will not be surprised to know that nursery education is our top priority. Given that he has additional funding from Westminster, given that expansion in nursery education is party policy and is in the white paper, and given that he has the power to make it happen, the full complement of factors is there to enable him to deliver. Also, such an approach has the support of an unassuming character, who is probably prevented from claiming that he leads the campaign: Bob Doris. I am sure that Bob Doris’s views will have a great influence on Mr Swinney when it comes to the budget round, because I know that he is a strong advocate for improved nursery education.