John Swinney to announce ‘smoke-and-mirrors Budget’

Derek Brownlee, the Scottish Tory finance spokesman, said he expects John Swinney to hide millions of pounds of cuts behind increased ‘efficiency’ targets for the public sector.

He predicted these savings will manifest themselves in cuts to public services, but not until after May’s Scottish Parliament elections.

The Finance Minister will today set out his draft Budget for 2011/12, which includes £900 million of cuts announced in the UK Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review last month.

John Swinney is to announce £900 million of spending cuts

John Swinney is to announce £900 million of spending cuts

But he has refused opposition calls for him to detail where £3 billion of cuts to Holyrood’s spending will be found over the next four years.

With Mr Swinney already confirming funding for the NHS and a council tax freeze will be protected, it is thought the brunt of the cuts next year will be borne by lower profile areas like transport, rural affairs and culture.

Wages for higher paid state employees are to be frozen but Mr Brownlee predicted the Finance Minister will announce a “political fix” instead of any major public sector reform to balance Scotland’s books in the longer term.

“Mr Swinney can do it for one year through smoke and mirrors using a combination of soft options and increasing efficiency targets without saying how they will be achieved. That’s why he is producing a budget for only one year,” he said.

“You cannot pull these stunts for three or four years and get away with it. If he sits down after his speech and most of his backbenchers are clapping, you can tell he has made no difficult announcements and it is an election year budget.”

He said the effect of increasing efficiency targets will be to cut departmental budgets across the board. However, it will not be apparent for more than a year whether they have been met through the public sector improving operations or cutting services.

Andy Kerr, Scottish Labour finance spokesman, called for a three-year budget, adding: “It might be good politics for the SNP to put off difficult choices until after the election, but it is bad government.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Parliament chiefs announced they are to cut 12 per cent from their budget over the next four financial years, the equivalent of £9.5 million.

A two-year pay freeze for Holyrood staff will save £1 million on top of £1.5 million from a freeze previously announced for MSPs.

Fifty staff, ten per cent of the total, will be cut from the parliament’s workforce by March 2013, but there will be no compulsory redundancies. However, there will be a reduction in the number of parliamentary watchdogs.

A £28 million bonus scheme for NHS consultants will be scaled back to save up to £2 million for front line services, the Scottish Health Minister also announced.

Nicola Sturgeon said Distinction Awards in 2011/12 will be frozen at this year’s levels and new consultants will be unable to claim the money. Almost 600 doctors received the bonuses last year.

The British Medical Association in Scotland attacked the decision but opposition politicians said the cutbacks were long overdue and do not go far enough.

source: telegraph.co.uk

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