Precisely. I agree with that, but scrutiny should be judged not solely by the number of weeks but by the focused attention to the budget. The cabinet secretary has said that he will assist in that process as much as possible by providing modelling and information in advance of the budget.
For the Government to publish detailed numbers or scenario plans—which are, in essence, the budget—in advance of the autumn statement, when Scotland’s relative performance is more important than ever before, at a time of economic uncertainty, and when we are entirely in the dark about the UK Government’s spending plan would be not just unwise but downright irresponsible. The cabinet secretary has a responsibility to the people of Scotland to manage our finances with prudence and reason, which is precisely what he is doing.
I agree fully with those such as Adam Tomkins who argue that scrutiny is more critical than ever, and I do not underestimate the time pressures on the Finance and Constitution Committee and subject committees—I am a member of one of them. To ask members such as me to scrutinise numbers that we know to be incorrect and then to ask us to do that all again when we have the right ones is not effective scrutiny or a good use of parliamentary time. As I just said, scrutiny should be measured not solely by the number of weeks but by its effectiveness, and it must be based on highly accurate and up-to-date forecasts.
I am not usually one to quote the Tories, but yesterday their chancellor said:
“When times change, we must change with them”.
It is to the credit of members in this Parliament that every subject committee has already adapted its approach to budget scrutiny, be that through high-level pre-budget scrutiny or extra committee sessions. That is happening already.
This is not a normal year and it cannot be a normal budget process. Our budget timetable was designed nearly two decades ago. The original principles of the financial issues advisory group should underpin the budget process every year, but how we apply those principles must adapt to the changing economic and political climate. In sharp contrast to Westminster, this Parliament is noted for its adaptability to change and its scrutiny of the Government’s budget. We have the opportunity to do both: to refocus our efforts by adapting our timescale for more effective scrutiny. There is a responsibility on all of us to the people of Scotland to get on and do that.