Last week we heard a new budget statement from Deputy First Minister John Swinney, here’s a round-up of our reaction to what was said about public services. (Please note this does not examine the statement in chronological order).
The Scottish Government priority: more resources at local level
Statement from John Swinney: “The Government will invite our partners in Local Government, to work with us in building on our jointly produced Covid Recovery Strategy, to create a more effective way of working together, focused on outcomes that matter to people, with more flexibility, reduced reporting and greater assurance. And we want to enable this new partnership by giving our commitment to the financing of Local Government. So instead of providing the flat-cash position set out in the Resource Spending Review, we are now increasing the resources available to Local Government next year by over £550 million.”
Jubilee Scotland’s Executive reacts: “We welcome more resources being made available at the local level. However, it is also worth noting that Public Private Partnerships have systematically reduced the capabilities of local government in Scotland. The Government must support Local Authorities to regain the in-house capability and capacity to identify current and future community needs, to ensure they can participate meaningfully in the planning, design and management of public projects.”
Conclusion from Jubilee Scotland: We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to sustainable public services and agree this is a major priority. That is why we are initiating a working group at Parliament on this very topic, focussing on how we can improve public services by abolishing Public Private Partnerships, providing better value for money for the taxpayer and providing the quality services Scotland wants. We hope and expect there will be participation from all parties! Sustainable public services are at the heart of our Scotland Against PPPs campaign. Public Private Partnerships are a drain on vital public funds, they provide poor value-for-money for the taxpayer and poor service provision because providing quality must share the priority list with private profits.
The Scottish Government priority: rejection of austerity
Statement from John Swinney: “We have chosen not to follow the path of austerity that is the hallmark of the United Kingdom Government… Within the powers available to us, we will choose a different path.”
Jubilee Scotland’s Executive reacts: “During the statement there was, understandably, a major focus on the economic challenges facing Scotland. We recognise that this crisis is affecting many countries the world over and we welcome their commitment to avoid the path of austerity. A path that hurts the most vulnerable.”
Conclusion from Jubilee Scotland: We welcome this commitment to no austerity measures. The current economic circumstances and the unpredictable forecasts bolster the argument for guaranteeing value for money in the public sector – both by ensuring that public funds are directed towards quality services, not private profits, and properly funding the wages of the NHS staff, teachers and all of those who provide these services. The pledge to be honest with the Scottish people about the stark situation we face should, we believe, be coupled with honesty about where money is being wasted in the public sector – the money going to private shareholders. We need to see the Scottish Government and all parties commit to abolishing PPPs in all forms (including MIMs, which is the latest version of them).
The Scottish Government priority: investment in the public services
Statement from John Swinney: “All of us need to know our public services will be there to meet our needs and we must invest in them to make sure that promise can be fulfilled. In particular, we must target investment in our National Health Service, which is facing unprecedented pressure following the pandemic. To do this by choosing a different, more progressive path for Scotland.”
Jubilee Scotland’s Executive reacts: “We believe cross party collaboration to abolish PPPs and establish an alternative will further prospects for future sustainability and resilience in the public sector against economic volatility.”
Conclusion from Jubilee Scotland: Instead of potentially having to find savings through cuts to vital services (something the Scottish Government has committed to avoid) or stalling or scrapping plans to improve them, let’s make our investments work for the Scottish people, the people who are footing the bill and using the services. Finding an alternative to the use of PPPs is key to ensuring that investments in the public sector are made in a responsible and transparent manner.
The Scottish Government priority: public sector pay
Statement from John Swinney: “…given the uncertain inflation outlook and the need to still conclude some pay deals for the current year, I am not publishing a Public Sector Pay Policy for 2023-24 at this stage. We will of course continue to collaborate with trade unions and public sector employers on fair and sustainable pay, and will look to say more on our approach for 2023-24 in the new year.”
Jubilee Scotland’s Executive reacts: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to collaborate with trade unions and public sector employers on the important issue of fair and sustainable pay. We unfortunately see unfair wages under many PPP contracts, and this is another issue that an alternative to PPPs would be able to address.”
Conclusion from Jubilee Scotland: In ensuring our public services, such as the NHS and education sector, are really publicly owned, we can prioritise the protection of fair wages over the protection of private profits – creating a more appealing workplace in the good times and going some way to insulating against economic downturns.
The Scottish Government priority: progressive taxation
Statement from John Swinney: “In this Budget, we are asking people on higher incomes to contribute more in taxation than those on lower incomes, but with the majority of people in Scotland still paying less in taxation than if they lived in the rest of the United Kingdom. By these decisions, everyone in Scotland will be able to enjoy the benefits of strong public services and a comprehensive social contract.”
Jubilee Scotland’s Executive reacts: “We are pleased to see the progressive taxation proposed by the Scottish Government, allowing our NHS to benefit. We would like to see greater transparency in how all taxes are being spent.“
Conclusion from Jubilee Scotland: While the public may not need or want to know every detail of spending within the NHS, education etc, it is important that they have access to this information and that proper scrutiny can be made. In the PPP model used in Scotland the private companies that provide some of our infrastructure and services are legally protected from giving information that would be available if the public sector was publicly owned and run.
The Scottish Government priority: a path to Net Zero
Statement from John Swinney: “As the Climate Change Committee recently highlighted, decarbonising transport remains one of the key challenges we face in reaching Net Zero. We will support these efforts by working with the private sector to extend Scotland’s Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure with investment of £60 million, expenditure of £1.4 billion to maintain, operate and decarbonise our rail infrastructure, invest nearly £200 million in active and sustainable travel and provide £15 million as part of our Fair Fares Review for a six month pilot, removing peak time rail fares as a way of making rail travel more affordable and attractive to travellers.”
Jubilee Scotland’s Executive reacts: “We are delighted to see progress on measures towards Net Zero, however we call on the Scottish Government to make sure that any private sector involvement to fulfil these commitments does not translate into private ownership of the solutions. We need public investments to result in public ownership!”
Conclusion from Jubilee Scotland: Our future and our transition to Net Zero should be fair, publicly owned and efficient. Private profits should not hamper our progress to a more sustainable society. The Scottish Government should explore how the National Performance Framework and plans for Net Zero could be supported by implementing an alternative to PPPs across sectors.
Concluding reaction from Jubilee Scotland
As with any budget, this touched on many aspects of our lives in Scotland and to coin the phrase, ‘it was a mixed bag’. Much of it is welcome, such as the focus on eradicating child poverty, to provide sustainable public services and the new measures to assist in the path to Net Zero. However, before we celebrate we want to see commitment from the Scottish Government to make the real change we need so that decisions truly ‘invest in our people… invest in our economy and… invest in our public services’ without also investing much of our vital public funds in private profits. We need to make our public sector truly work for the people it serves and the people who dedicate their lives to it.