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

Yes, I think that we would all agree with that. One question is how much of the NPF should be in statute and how much of it should be allowed just to carry on without a statutory basis; indeed, another question is whether the indicators themselves should change over time. After all, whichever Government or party is in power, society changes and priorities change. I do not think that we reached a final conclusion on that matter; some suggested a limit on the number of indicators, while others wanted them to be expanded.

Last month, the committee met in Arbroath. We were joined by the cabinet secretary in the afternoon but, in the morning, we spent some useful time listening to the views of local people and organisations. I sat on a small group that comprised a diverse range of participants, including representatives from Angus Council, local small businesses, the Prince’s Trust and Enable. It soon became clear that there was a range of familiarity with NPF, with some participants being very familiar with it while others, frankly, had little knowledge of it at all. That was very much in keeping with previous evidence heard by the committee that, although many of those familiar with it felt that it contained a lot of useful content, there was a lack of broad familiarity with it across the country as a whole.

However, despite the differing levels of familiarity, when the group started to discuss some of the issues addressed in the NPF, it became clear that many of them were tangible and of everyday relevance to people. Coming from Glasgow, with a tendency to be slightly city-centric, I found it helpful to hear different perspectives from smaller towns such as Arbroath and its neighbours in Angus. We heard, for example, that many local businesses had particular issues with competition from the bigger cities.

As has been previously noted—indeed, it has been extensively mentioned this afternoon—preventative spending has been a key area of interest. Both the current Finance Committee and its predecessor have spent a lot of time on the matter. Clearly national and local government must utilise their finite resources as efficiently and effectively as possible; however, the committee recognises the challenges faced by public bodies. These were summed up by Glasgow City Council, which said:

“the expectation is that we will treat the population and their needs as they stand right now, yet prevention and early intervention dividends will be felt much further down the track, five or even 10 years away. The reconciliation that health boards and local authorities are left to deal with comes from the fact that the pressing needs and the expected gains do not coincide.”

That issue has been touched on a few times this afternoon. For example, the benefit of the extra money that education might spend on prevention now will be felt in health, prisons and so on. Although progress towards integrating the provision of public services has been made in some areas—most notably, perhaps, in the Highlands—Fife Council highlighted to us some of the challenges that it faced, saying:

“The success of prevention and early intervention will depend on the reshaping of mainstream provision and universal services. It is not about a small, targeted response; it is about reshaping the whole system approach.”—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 9 October; c 3144 and 3167.]

Turning to comments that were made in the debate, I note that Malcolm Chisholm mentioned the issue of disinvestment. I think that that takes us back to Glasgow City Council’s comments; the difficulty is that this is a moving playing field. For example, demand for hospitals and elderly care might be increasing. Disinvestment might not necessarily mean closing a hospital; it might mean not opening an extra hospital because more people can be treated at home. We simply have to accept that these issues are tricky.

A number of members talked about priorities and where money should be spent. As Bob Doris mentioned, most of the suggestions have been about what to do with the consequential funds; there have not been many suggestions about changing the budget as a whole. We may get to that at stage 1, but at the moment it certainly seems that most of the debate is about what to do with those funds. Mark McDonald commented that Labour was asking for a lot of things—everything, in fact—and Anne McTaggart, who spoke immediately afterwards, asked for more money for local government.

In conclusion, I note that the next draft budget that we will be scrutinising will make use of the powers under the Scotland Act 2012, and will include the land and buildings transaction tax and the landfill tax. For the time being, however, I very much look forward to the Finance Committee’s on-going work in that regard, and I support the motion in the convener’s name.