By Bill Heaney
The SNP Government is being urged to ditch its “discredited” plans for a National Care Service and plough the estimated £1.3 billion savings into council coffers to boost local social care provision.
The call comes from the Scottish Conservatives ahead of today’s (Thursday) debate on John Swinney’s Budget Bill, in which the party is seeking a fair funding deal for Scotland’s local authorities and increased support for struggling businesses.
Shadow Secretary for Finance and Economy Liz Smith also wants the Deputy First Minister to match the rates relief being given to the same businesses (retail, hospitality and leisure) in England and Wales, for which the Scottish Government has already received Barnett Consequentials.
Liz Smith insists that many of John Swinney’s excuses for the huge spending cuts he is imposing don’t stack up, and that Scots are paying the price for SNP incompetence.
She will highlight the sluggish economic growth which means that, although Scots pay £1 billion more in tax each year than those in other parts of the UK, this brings in only £325 million extra for public services.
Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy Liz Smith MSP, pictured left, said: “The difficult financial climate has been made much more challenging because of years of poor choices made by the SNP Government.
“It’s time for John Swinney to ditch the SNP’s discredited and unaffordable plans for a National Care Service, and instead give that money to councils who are better placed to deploy it on local social care provision.
“Scotland’s councils have been systematically underfunded for years and it’s time the SNP offered a fair funding deal for local authorities.
“They should also pass on the Barnett Consequentials they have received from the UK Government to struggling local shops and pubs to give them the rates relief their counterparts elsewhere in the UK receive.
“Of course, John Swinney has some tough decisions to make but his position is stronger than he makes out, thanks to record funding from the UK Government.
“Although he claims that inflation and the Westminster Government are responsible for the cuts he has imposed, the Fraser of Allander Institute pointed out that the rise in the UK block grant cancels out the inflationary pressures of which he complained.
“John Swinney pictured right, should look closer to home if he wants to point the finger. It’s the SNP that squandered enormous sums of public money on the likes of the ferries fiasco, BiFab, Prestwick airport and the malicious Rangers prosecution.
“He should be tackling the tax gap between Scotland and the rest of the UK, which hammers Scots with higher taxes, stifles growth and puts off the skilled workers that Scotland desperately needs to attract from coming here.
“If John Swinney wants to avoid Scottish households being faced with a potential rise of up to 25% in council tax bills to cover the shortfall created by his party’s under-funding of local government, he must urgently change course.”
Speaking ahead of the Scottish Government’s budget debate today, Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie also called on the Scottish Government to ditch divisive and expensive plans for centralising care services, national testing of P1 pupils and further papers on breaking up the UK, and use the money to invest in new pay deals for striking workers, investment in insulation and energy efficiency and tackling long Covid.
Mr Rennie, left, said: “With Scotland riven by strikes, this budget is an opportunity to change course, end the industrial action and get kids back in schools.
“A budget is about choices and priorities. People recognise that you cannot get something for nothing. That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats are setting out where we think money should come from too.
“Ditching divisive and expensive plans for centralising care services, national testing of P1 pupils and further papers on breaking up the UK would free up hundreds of millions of pounds to invest in frontline services.
“Coupled with higher expected tax revenues and the money that flows from the rest of the UK to Scotland, the Scottish Government could then launch a national emergency insulation programme, give a fair deal to local government and invest in areas such as education and long Covid which have been neglected”.
£1.3 billion from National Care Service. The current Financial Memorandum for the National Care Service Bill estimated that costs from 2022-23 to 2026-27 could range from £644 million to £1,261 million. (National Care Service Bill Financial Memorandum, accessed 1 February 2023, link).
£222 million Barnett Consequentials from Business Rates Relief. The UK Government announced £2,295 million in the Autumn Statement to provide 75% business rates relief which would generate around £222 million for Scotland in consequentials. (Autumn Statement 2022, November 2022, page 59, link)
£1 billion more in taxation. The Deputy First Minister said in the budget ministerial statement, “the proposals that I am putting forward today, will raise around £1 billion more next year than if we had followed UK tax decisions.” (Budget Statement 2023 to 2024, 15 December 2023, link).
£325 million extra for public services. The Scottish Fiscal Commission note that on income tax, “Comparing our forecasts with the OBR’s, the net position is expected to be £325 million in 2023-24, compared to the expected value in December 2021 of -£257 million.” (Scottish Fiscal Commission, 15 December 2023, link)
UK Block Grant increase accounts for inflationary pressure. The Fraser of Allander Institute said, “The announcements made by the Chancellor on 17th November did not help the situation in 2022-23, but they have generated significant consequentials for 2023-24 and 2024-25 – which more or less offset the impacts of inflation on the budgets for these years.” (Fraser of Allander Institute Scotland’s Budget Report 2022, 12 December 2022, link).
Council Tax Rises of 25%. Council Leaders have warned that if the budget pressures they faced were to be solely filled through increasing council tax, a rise of 20-25% would be required. (BBC News, 31 January 2023, link)