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 would have thought—especially after having had the same exchange last year—that the convener of the Finance Committee would know the difference between a departmental expenditure limit budget and total Scottish Government spend, which takes in annually managed expenditure. I know that the Scottish Government wants to talk only about the DEL budget because that is the one in which it can make the most decisions, but AME budgets also represent money that is spent in Scotland. Although the Scottish Government has little flexibility in terms of what it can do with that money, it still represents money that is spent in Scotland.

I know that it is a fact that the Scottish Government does not like to acknowledge or talk about, but according to its own figures in its published budget, the figures have increased year on year. If the cabinet secretary wishes to tell me that the total Government budget has gone down in cash terms in any of those years, I would welcome his intervention. He does not wish to intervene; I do not blame him.

Let us return to a couple of issues that were covered in the debate. Bob Doris spoke eloquently, in a fairly thoughtful contribution—for the first 90 per cent of it; I will ignore the last 10 per cent—about change funds. The committee and everybody else in the chamber buy into the concept of preventative spend; indeed, it has had cross-party support over a number of years. The committee came to a conclusion at paragraph 105 of its report that is worthy of a specific response from the cabinet secretary—if not today, then certainly in written form:

The Committee invites the Government to update it on the progress in ‘establishing fit-for-purpose monitoring and evaluative processes’ as stated in the response to last year’s draft budget report.”

I take on board the comments that were made last year by the cabinet secretary to the effect that is it very difficult to evaluate every single public pound that is spent, but given the amount of money that is going into change funds—Bob Doris mentioned £500 million—it is worth looking carefully at that to ensure that we are spending the money on preventative spend, as opposed to covering gaps, so that we get long-term results.

Murdo Fraser made a couple of comments to which I hope the Scottish Government will respond. One was about the percentage of contracts that are awarded via public contracts Scotland to Scottish companies. We heard the figure for the number of contracts, but what is figure for the value of the contracts? That would very useful information that is important for Parliament to know.

Murdo Fraser also commented on what Scottish Enterprise said about the gap of £26.3 million in this year’s budget, which is to be covered by extra property sales over the financial year. There is the question whether disposing of property is the best thing to do. Is it a good idea to sell property at a loss now, in order to cover a revenue gap in a single year?

I will finish where the debate started. Mr Gibson talked about the national performance framework. Evidence that was heard led a number of committees to conclude that linkages should be improved. The cabinet secretary challenged committees to come to him with more detailed proposals. That was fair; there is work for Parliament to do. However, there is also work for the Government to do. Will the cabinet secretary work in tandem with the committees and perhaps take the lead on the issue by convening a meeting, so that we can drive things forward together rather than wait for Parliament to act alone? In 12 months we will have a similar debate. Will we be able to say something more positive about linkages then?