Sunday, January 17, 2010

Holyrood: The Budget Battleground

Last year the SNP Government was only able to get its budget through after a highly dramatic Holyrood showdown. Will the various groups in the Scottish Parliament be able to conduct themselves in a constructive manner this year, working together to pass a budget that meets the needs of the people of Scotland? After reading the articles in today's Sunday Herald where the Party Leaders set out their positions, I'm not convinced.

We need more from John Swinney than what amounts to a plaintive wail that the big boys in London ran away with our money. If I in my own household budget have to deal with the impact of Labour's recession, then why shouldn't John Swinney with the Scottish budget. It's not pleasant, but you just have to get on with it, work out what's important, and stop whinging that it's all someone else's fault.

Let's look closer at Swinney's boasts that the Scottish Government has delivered a surplus of £2.6 billion over 3 years. I don't usually have much good to say about how Labour have managed the country's finances but you can't really compare the Holyrood and Westminster budgets in terms of responsibility. I mean, how many banks did John Swinney save? To say that the current economic crisis strengthens the arguments for independence is patently ridiculous. Look at the real pain that the Irish people go through as their Government made huge cuts make monstrous cuts in public spending in 2 emergency budgets last year.

As for Iain Gray, he concentrated most of his space on slating the SNP over the cancellation of GARL and blinding us with figures which supposedly show that the SNP has had plenty money but it just hasn't used it wisely. His words just seem to be an extension of Labour's inability to talk honestly about the financial mess we're in on a UK level. He also fails to recognise that one of the factors making things worse for Scottish businesses is London Labour's abject failure to properly regulate the banks, to use our ownership of them to keep them lending to sustainable businesses. Labour wants to see an extension of the concessionary travel scheme to those on the minimum level of DLA and more investment in housing as well as the reinstatement of GARL.

And still the Salmond-Goldie love-in continues as, get this, all the Tories want, their big idea, when Scotland's businesses and households are struggling, is that the Government should publish online any expenditure over £25,000. That's it. How is that going to help? The Tories are very keen on this kind of pledge. I remember Boris Johnson saying during his election campaign that he would publish every pennny he spent on his website. I'm not sure he's delivered on that in any meaninfgul form.

Patrick Harvie says some good things about investment in renewables and insulation but he'd be more than happy to ruin the economy of Fife by cancelling the vital new Forth crossing.

In contrast to all of the above, Tavish Scott's piece is mainly full of positive, practical stuff. That F word - fairness, highlighted by Nick Clegg this week, a principle of virtually every Liberal Democrat election campaign I've ever been involved in, is at the fore of what Tavish is saying.

First, he wants an end to the top earners in the public sector being able to award themselves big bonuses while those at the bottom end of the pay scale get nothing. He wants action on paying six figure salaries to doctors who also work in the private sector. I agree with him that if we're paying that sort of salary, we deserve to have them full time. If they want to work part time in the private sector, then their salaries should be reduced accordingly.

He says that urgent investment is needed to get young people into work, highlighting a 45% increase in claims for Job Seekers Allowance among young people.

He also highlights practical examples of how businesses are suffering, being turned own for credit even when their proposals are sound, being dealt with remotely by people who don't know their history and their business.

It's notable that Tavish is the only leader to report on constructive discussions with John Swinney which seem to be going somewhere. I like the fact that he's chosen to emphasise that dialogue.

Labour and the SNP don't escape focused criticism, but Tavish is much more positive in his presentation than the others. Labour gets it for its myriad economic failures, the SNP for the failure of its Scottish Futures Trust which "continues to consume millions of pound but still builds absolutely nothing."

If I have to say one thing about the Liberal Democrat proposals, is that they don't mention at all one of the biggest issues to me - housing. When you have some local authorities and housing associations able to house barely a fifth of the people who need housing, when large families are crammed into 2 bedroomed houses, often in hellishly poor conditions, damp, with inadequate heating with no hope of a move to something bigger, when you have families in bed and breakfast accommodation because there's nowhere else to house them, something has to be done. Tavish understands this. When I and other bloggers interviewed him just after he became leader, he wanted to see more invevstment in social housing to save the construction jobs haemorrhaging during the recession. I don't think that this can wait for action - we need to do more to help these people now. Only then will we have a budget for all of Scotland.

The first act of the budget drama plays out this week. Let's hope that the process is more serious production and less pantomime farce.


James Mackenzie said...

Certainly an interesting exercise that the Sunday Herald did. Can you give me any indication as to why you think the various arguments here, including the one in the comments, are wrong about the bridge?

James Mackenzie said...

Seriously, you're the only blogger making the case for this project, but only in passing: I'm very curious to see someone set out the arguments for doing it now.

Caron said...

I can't imagine that I'm the only blogger who wants to make sure that Fife isn't cast adrift and its economy left to rot if it loses such a major route if the old bridge becomes unusable.

What happens to all the people who live there and work in Edinburgh? How are they going to get to and from work? There certainly wouldn't be jobs for them in Fife as businesses would close or move elsewhere if they couldn't easily move their goods out or their supplies in. Not to mention the congestion along the A985 which wouldn't be able to cope with the increase in HGVs.

You just have to see what happens if there's a problem on the bridge to see the chaos that would ensue on a daily basis if it wasn't there.

A new crossing of the Forth from Edinburgh to Fife is a necessity to me.

My husband was 13 when the Forth Road Bridge opened. It made a huge difference to him. Until then trips to Edinburgh were a rare thing that involved getting on a boat. I don't think we want to go back to those days.


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