As the cabinet secretary noted, we are in the final lap of the budget process. As we approach its culmination, I thought that it would be appropriate to begin by reflecting on some of the positives of the past couple of weeks. I welcome the fact that the cabinet secretary sought to engage with all parties, including the Scottish Conservatives, in the process. I also welcome the fact that she has accepted some of our budget asks, including additional funding for councils and extra resource funding for our police. Those are positive developments but, sadly, that is where the good news ends. In terms of both process and substance, I suggest that the budget has been deficient.
I will first consider process, and forgive me if I dwell on the matter slightly longer than might be expected, but the technicalities matter here. I acknowledge that the cabinet secretary introduced the budget in difficult circumstances, and I accept that it is a draft budget, which is always subject to small tweaks here and there. That does not negate the lack of transparency on what money was ultimately available in her negotiations with other parties. In many respects, that is simply a repeat of what happened with Scottish National Party budgets of the past.
The cabinet secretary presented her budget and repeatedly stated that every available penny had been allocated, much like her predecessor used to do. In her statement to Parliament, she said:
“In allocating those resources, we have used every fiscal lever that we have to the fullest extent. Every penny is accounted for”.—[
, 6 February 2020; c 76.]
In the Finance and Constitution Committee, she said:
“When I say that I have deployed every penny on the face of the budget, I mean that I have deployed every penny”.—[
Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee,
12 February 2020; c 40.]
One week later, she said:
“My key line is that we have deployed every penny”.—[
Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee,
19 February 2020; c 40.]
In anyone’s mind, that is a clear and unequivocal position. Yet, if we fast forward to the stage 1 debate last week, miraculously, an extra £173 million appeared from nowhere. How can any committee of the Parliament do its job of pre-budget scrutiny when the figures that it is looking at can change at whim?