Draft Budget 2014-15

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

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

As I was a member of the Finance Committee in the previous parliamentary session, before the most recent election, I am always interested in reading the Finance Committee’s reports. I was particularly interested in this one, because I am a believer in having a national performance framework, such as Scotland performs, and I was interested to see it reviewed after five or six years of operation. I participated in the first inquiry into preventative spend that the Finance Committee undertook. If I remember rightly, Malcolm Chisholm was also a member of the Finance Committee when it undertook that inquiry, before the most recent election. Those two things tie in very well.

I was truly delighted in 2007 that not only did the SNP win the election, but we came to government with what I believed to be an absolutely fresh approach. That approach looked at Scotland as a whole and asked what kind of country we wanted to be, how we should target policy towards that and how we should monitor ourselves to see how to achieve that. I believe that the national performance framework, Scotland performs, set us on that road. It was a bold initiative—an integrated framework for policy delivery, in the parlance that is used—and it was a mechanism to assess Scotland’s performance and give us the discipline to look at successes, look at failures and look at what is best for our society as a whole, to move forward.

We heard the cabinet secretary talk about the measurements of GDP, employment, unemployment and economic inactivity and I was very glad to see in the report that he was open to reviewing and revising the indicators, based on discussion, because that is very important. Along with Patrick Harvie, I was a member of the steering group that Oxfam ran on the humankind index, and I know that the cabinet secretary was interested in looking at some of its findings. The wider discussion beyond the findings of the Finance Committee is certainly worth having.

That brings me to preventative spend, which is a major issue. Anne McTaggart just talked about cross-party action. One of my great wishes and aspirations for our Parliament, from the very start, was that we would get beyond the petty party politics that we hear so much of in here and recognise that our country faces some big issues, over which surely we could have consensus, and that no matter who was in power, we could move towards attaining some of those aims. That ties into the assessment of the nation through Scotland performs.

I found the Finance Committee’s first preventative spend inquiry quite difficult, because I had to recognise that although we had the boldness of single outcome agreements for local authorities, for example, and different initiatives to look at public service in general, our society very much works in silos. Sometimes, we found far too much of an emphasis on health boards or local authorities wanting to hold on to their own budgets and not have any kind of sensible sharing across budget lines, not only to make things better for people—it is all about people—but, in the longer term, hedge our resources better.

That brings me on to working together. I was interested to hear that, all of a sudden, the budget consequentials from the autumn statement at Westminster have all to be spent on childcare and mitigating the remnants of the bedroom tax after the mitigation that we have already carried out. I sat on the Welfare Reform Committee and the point that we should look at the bedroom tax again was not even raised as part of the budget scrutiny.

I welcome the fact that, in the budget, we are trying to mitigate and alleviate some of the effects of the welfare reform that has been imposed on us. In the news this week, I see that more than 500,000 people in the UK have turned to food banks since April and thousands have been hit by welfare penalties. Willie Rennie said at First Minister’s questions that we have turned a corner and things are good. I repeat that it is about people and there are an awful lot of people that it just ain’t good for.

I find it a bit galling that we have an Opposition party that talks about working together but could not even vote together to try to bring some of the powers over welfare reform to the Parliament. We hear Opposition members saying, “Use the powers you have. Use the powers you have,” but we could have had many more powers. We could have been doing better than just tinkering around the edges of trying to alleviate some of the issues that are being imposed by Westminster.

It is back to what Anne McTaggart said—