Draft Budget 2014-15

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

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I extend my thanks to the Finance Committee for its work in producing the report and bringing it to the chamber.

First, I will say a few words on the national performance framework. Members of the Scottish Green Party have probably been boring members over the years with speeches about why it is important to move away from narrow metrics such as GDP growth and have a broader understanding of the economic health of our society. We need broader metrics such as the humankind index that Linda Fabiani mentioned. However, members do not have to be Greens—they do not have to take the position that says that everlasting economic growth is impossible on a planet of finite resources and that the everlasting pursuit of it will be destructive—to recognise the reality.

The lesson of history is that there have been long periods in which our country has experienced continual economic growth and the lion’s share of the economic benefit of that activity has been hoarded by those who are already wealthiest—those who need the resources least benefit the most. Very often, that activity happens at the expense and exploitation of people and the environment. Very often, it means the exploitation of the environments in which the most exploited people live. Members do not have to be Greens to recognise that lesson of history.

The cabinet secretary is to be congratulated on his approach in developing the national performance framework and his desire for cross-party dialogue on its future development. However, Malcolm Chisholm was also right to say that some of those congratulations have been qualified. I think that the cabinet secretary would recognise that it is the beginning of a journey. He does not have all the answers yet on the future development of the concept and, although Scotland may be ahead of the curve in relation to the rest of the world, it is not a steep curve that we are ahead of—very few countries are doing anything at all in the area—so let us welcome the work that is being done but not rest on our laurels.

On climate change, I welcome many of the points that Rob Gibson made. I also welcome the fact that the Finance Committee included a quotation from the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Mr Wheelhouse, who acknowledged that, although we are nearly five years on from passing the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, we are yet to achieve a single annual target and that renewed effort is needed to meet the statutory climate change targets.

I make a plea to the cabinet secretary to make this the last year in which the climate change figures that accompany the budget come in right at the end of the committee scrutiny process and—in future years—to give those figures to the committees early enough to allow us to carry out robust and fair scrutiny. I hope that the Government would welcome that.

Among the areas in which we clearly need to do better as regards social justice and achieving the climate change targets are active travel and the energy efficiency programme. Mention has been made of taking money from energy efficiency to pay for bedroom tax mitigation, and I have a concern that, in doing that, we are, essentially, taking money from the pockets and purses of the very people whom we are trying to help, particularly in a year in which Barnett consequentials are available to use and in which money is being moved from revenue into capital. Those are potential alternative sources of funding that could be used to meet the equally important need of mitigating the bedroom tax.

On active travel, I commend the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition’s call for a doubling of the spend on the cycling budget. On paper, active travel—walking and cycling—is at the top of a hierarchy of transport priorities but, in reality, it is right at the bottom of the spend. The Government has increased spending on it a little this year, but the funding that is being provided is still way short of what is necessary for us to be able to meet the Government’s priority of 10 per cent of journeys being made by bike by 2020. Let us see a bit more focus on that.

On the wider health impact of active travel, there is a real opportunity to complement the Government’s approach on preventative spend through initiatives such as the change funds by building one around active lifestyles, healthy choices and healthy behaviour. At the moment, the Government has the community food and health (Scotland) project, which has just been brought under the auspices of NHS Health Scotland, but it has a tiny budget of around £60,000 a year. Demand massively outstrips supply, and I suspect that demand would be a great deal higher if many people had heard of the initiative.

Another Scottish Government minister, Shona Robison, has previously told us that obesity currently costs Scotland £457 million a year and that that figure could increase to up to £3 billion a year if we do not get a grip of the issue. If the Government were to take the same change fund approach to healthy and active lifestyles and to healthy food, that would be a useful way of complementing its approach to preventative spend in a way that would meet social and environmental objectives. I hope that the cabinet secretary will be willing to discuss that with me over the coming weeks and months as we move forward in the budget process.