Draft Budget 2014-15

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

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

In closing the debate on behalf of the Finance Committee, I would like to touch on a few issues that have been mentioned during the debate and make some other comments, as time allows. I echo the thanks of the convener to the various people who have contributed to the budget process, because even practical issues such as arranging our trip to Arbroath involve a lot of work. I also thank all members for their useful contributions, some of which we would agree with more than others.

If I have time, I will touch on some of the extremely useful workshops that we held in Arbroath, where we listened to local people.

The convener spoke about the national performance framework and the Scotland performs website. I will not spend a lot of time on that, as it has been mentioned quite a lot by other members. It is worth highlighting a statement that we heard in evidence from Professor Jeremy Peat of the David Hume Institute, who said:

“I think that Scotland should be proud of the NPF. It is a remarkable achievement to have got something so detailed, so regularly presented and so transparent in terms of the data, targets and information that are set out. It is a hugely positive base from which to proceed.”—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 2 October 2013; c 3087.]

That illustrates the point, which came through at committee, that no one is saying that the NPF is the final article and cannot be built upon. It is something that we all want to build on.

While such positivity about the NPF was welcomed by the committee, we should accept that it is not well known among the public. More could perhaps be done to promote its use, especially in supporting scrutiny of the budget.

Members made quite a range of comments about the national performance framework, including Mr Swinney. Kenny Gibson referred to it in his opening remarks. Members also referred to the positive feedback from the Carnegie Trust and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The point has been made that Scotland performs is a measure not just of Government but of the whole country. That takes us into an area of complexity about who we are measuring and how we are measuring it. That is an issue not just of fact but of putting across to the public, and even to academics, who is responsible for what.

In a useful contribution, Iain Gray, I think, asked whether the cabinet secretary would accept that it was always his responsibility if something went wrong. Clearly, we would all agree that that is not the case, but it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between what the Government has done and what it is responsible for in the outcomes and the other factors that are involved.

A number of members touched on outcomes and outputs. The NHS in particular has been mentioned, with, on the one hand, the satisfaction of much of the public with the NHS and, on the other, measures of output such as the number of nurses.

On preventative spending, it was clear in committee that if we were successful in keeping people out of hospital—which many of us would like to do—that would mean fewer hospitals and fewer nurses. However, few politically would dare to stand up and say that they welcome fewer hospitals and fewer nurses.

Gavin Brown talked about wanting a stronger link between spend and outcomes. Mr Swinney asked him how a stronger link could be achieved.

I did not think that I would say this but I was struck by what Mr Hepburn said, which was that we all have a responsibility to ask questions and use the NPF in debates in the chamber and in committee. He hit the nail on the head there, because it is perfectly feasible for all of us, when we are questioning Government ministers—or anyone for that matter—to ask them how what they are doing ties into the NPF and the indicators. I am as guilty as anyone of not doing that. There is a lot of potential for all of us to get involved in that and to move forward.