In the Finance Committee’s report and in today’s debate, important points and recommendations on the Government’s proposed spending have been highlighted. A theme that runs through the report, which was mentioned in the debate, is how we can better measure and match the outcomes that are delivered through the Government’s £35 billion budget.
Not for the first year, the Finance Committee found it difficult to assess the Government’s spend against the national performance framework. The committee called for development of the tool to enable us to understand better how the money that the Government spends on delivering core policies is contributing to the outcomes that it wants for Scotland.
There is an opportunity here for the Scottish Government to be smarter and better at delivering a budget that engages the key challenges that face Scotland—as members have said throughout the debate. This is about the public’s understanding of what their Government is doing for them, because government is about choices, which are never mutually exclusive, so the need for policies that follow priorities and are linked to performance indicators is important—not least when several indicators show that there is room for improvement.
That was evidenced in the committee’s scrutiny of the Government’s prioritisation of preventative spend. In assessing the change funds, for example, the committee welcomed the additional money for the early years fund, but noted a lack of investment at local level. As the Local Government and Regeneration Committee found, part of the reason for that is the difficulty that local authorities have in reprioritising their spend to target appropriate preventative policies in extremely difficult circumstances. That point was made throughout the debate—we heard it from Kenny Gibson in his opening speech on behalf of the committee, from Iain Gray on behalf of Labour and from Anne McTaggart and Bob Doris during the open debate.
As Neil Bibby said, there are levers that the Government can pull now to strengthen its preventative spend agenda significantly in relation to the early years. Labour’s proposal to use the money and powers that we have to deliver childcare to 50 per cent of two-year-olds would benefit nearly 300,000 children through investment in their wellbeing and education from an early age, and by providing parents with opportunities to get back to work at a time when our economic recovery needs them. The policy embodies effective preventative spend, and delivery now is within our gift, given the powers of Parliament and the autumn statement Barnett consequentials.
The Finance Committee considered the impact of welfare reforms on local authorities and communities. The issue has been well rehearsed in Parliament. In evidence to the Welfare Reform Committee, the cabinet secretary said that £20 million is the maximum amount that is legally allowable to mitigate the bedroom tax. However, as we have also heard this afternoon, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in response to a question about whether the Scottish Government would be penalised for providing more than £20 million, said that what the Scottish Government does with its block grant is a matter for the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government has the opportunity to go further than it has committed to going.