College body welcomes Scottish Government budget

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  By Martin Kelly
 
Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney’s decision to increase the funding to Scotland’s colleges has been welcomed by the sector.

Today’s budget saw a £61m increase in college funding over the three-year spending review period, compared to numbers outlined in the draft budget statement.

Following the announcement, John Henderson, Chief Executive of Colleges Scotland commented:

“Today’s budget announcement is warmly welcomed by Colleges Scotland and our members.

“This additional funding will help to give colleges stability over the next two years while they work to successfully complete the reform process.

“As the sector’s representative, we have highlighted its economic importance to the Scottish Government and we are pleased that its value has been recognised by Ministers.”

Scotland’s budget for 2013/14 includes a continuation of the small business bonus, a freeze in council tax and investment in major infrastructure projects.  The Finance Secretary insisted the budget package was designed to protect jobs and the economy in the face of savage spending cuts being imposed by the UK government.

As well as extra college funding and the measures that had previously been announced, Mr Swinney was today also able to announce a further £38 million for new homes and improvements to Scotland’s housing stock, £10m for road maintenance, £2m for an innovative new pilot scheme to encourage town centre living, and a doubling of the funding to support Scotland’s entrepreneurs through the Encouraging Dynamic Growth Entrepreneurs (EDGE) Fund, with an additional £1m.

The further £38 million for housing will take the total to £859 million over the three year spending review period.

Since the draft budget was first published, Labour has made calls for spending on various projects running into billions of pounds [see notes below].  Despite these calls, the party yet again failed to offer a single amendment to the budget that would have indicated what Labour would cut to pay for this additional spending.

During this afternoon’s debate, Labour’s shadow deputy Finance spokesperson Rhoda Grant suggested that Scotland should deal with the UK Government’s incoming bedroom tax by….building more one-bedroom houses before 01 April.

Commenting, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said:

“This is a budget that will deliver economic growth and jobs for Scotland and supports the priorities of people in Scotland.

“I am proud to have voted for it this evening and helped to secure the continuation of the council tax freeze, the small business bonus and free education, while also securing additional funding for housing and colleges.

“Not for the first time Labour have let themselves and people in Scotland down by making unrealistic, multi-billion pound spending calls without backing up their demands with even a single amendment to the budget for the parliament to consider.

“This empty posturing has become the hallmark of Labour in budget after budget, not least as it was in 2011 when Labour famously voted against the budget despite being offered everything they asked for and more.

“The absurd suggestion from Rhoda Grant in the debate that we should mitigate the Tories’ Bedroom Tax – which will see some very vulnerable people lose hundreds of pounds a year – was to build more one-bedroom houses, totally sums up the intellectual vacuum at the heart of Labour’s front bench.

“Since this year’s draft budget was published, Labour has made literally billions of pounds’ worth of spending demands – yet when push comes to shove, they haven’t even had the guts to argue for them in the budget.

“As long as Labour continues to treat the budget process as a game, people in Scotland will continue to put their trust in the SNP Government which is once again delivering for people in Scotland with a budget to secure jobs and economic growth.”

Labour finance spokesman Ken Macintosh, said: “There is nothing new here, nothing fresh, we are stuck with the same prescription the SNP have offered us for two years running and for two years running they have promised jobs and growth and yet there have been no jobs and no growth.”

NUS Scotland president Robin Parker, added: “While the efforts of students across Scotland have seen tens of millions put back into the budget, compared to what was originally proposed, we can’t accept a cut of £24.6m to colleges, on top of huge cuts over the last few years.”

Notes:

1.    Reverse FE budget cut: In a press release on 15 Jan 2013, Hugh Henry said the Scottish Government should: “….reverse the cuts to college budgets.”

Costing:  NUS Scotland is calling for £34.6m this year.

2.    Reverse cuts to Coalfield Regeneration Trust: On 11 Jan 2013, Sarah Boyack and Helen Eadie issued a press release calling for funding to the Coalfield Regeneration Trust to be reinstated, claiming this had been cut by two thirds (around 73%). This figure came from Written Answer SW4-11291, which stated that 2013 funding would be £422,977 compared to the 2011/12 figure of £1,576,000.

Costing: £1.15m to restore funding to 2011/12 levels.

3.    Bus regulation: On 10 Jan 2013, Iain Gray launched a Member’s Bill to strengthen the regulation of the bus industry.

Costing: To re-regulate the bus companies, they would have to be bought out at a cost of one year’s revenue. Doing so would be likely to cost an estimated £750m to £1bn. [official report 19 Apr 2012]

4.    Concessionary travel scheme: On 7 Jan 2013, responding to claims there could be a shortfall of up to £15m in funding for the Concessionary Travel Scheme, Richard Baker issued a press release that day stating: “It is not too late for the SNP to step back from this approach.”

Costing: £15m, according to the article in The Herald on that day.

5.    Reverse cuts to the housing budget: In a press release on 3 Dec 2012, Ken Macintosh issued a press release stating: “We need to see investment in housing, not cuts.”

Costing: £49m. Between 2012/13 and 2013/14, the housing budget fell by £99m – this is outlined in the Infrastructure Committee’s draft budget report. On 19 Dec 2012, the Finance Secretary announced a further £50m for affordable housing. To bring investment back to 2012/13 levels would require an additional £49m.

6.    Employ more nurses and midwives: On 27 November 2012, Jackie Baillie issued a press release claiming there were almost 2,500 fewer nurses and midwives than in 2007.

Costing: employing an additional 2,500 fewer nurses and midwives would cost NHS Scotland roughly £93m per year. Scottish Government figures show an average weighted cost for employing a nurse is around £37,200 per annum (based on 2011/12 WTE and pay data).

7.    Increase NHS budget: On 25 Oct 2012 Jackie Baillie responded to an NHS budgets report from Audit Scotland claiming: “The NHS is buckling under the financial pressure…”

Costing: Health boards told Audit Scotland they needed to save £271.7m in 2012/13 because of budget pressures. However, these figure represented efficiency savings, which would be reinvested in front line services.

8.    Additional funding for the Edinburgh Glasgow Rail Improvement Programme: Ken Macintosh claims the budget for the EGRIP has been cut from £1bn to £650m. [Labour press release 11/10/12]

Costing: £350m to bring project investment up to £1bn.

9.    Incentivise to reduce carbon emissions in the aviation industry: As an amendment to a debate on Air Passenger Duty on 20 Nov 2012, Labour’s Richard Baker stated: “…the Scottish Government should work with Scottish airports and airlines operating in Scotland to explore what further incentives might be put in place to reduce carbon emissions in the industry”. The amendment also noted: “…that the previous Scottish administration introduced the route development fund.”

Costing: The Air Route Development Fund cost £22.1m from 2002 – 2007, according to an evaluation of the Fund published in November 2009 by Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Government, Visit Scotland and HIAL. Reintroducing it, or creating a similar scheme, would likely incur a similar cost.

10.  Deal with NHS maintenance backlog: Jackie Baillie motion 13 Nov 2012 stated: “understands that the backlog of maintenance totals £1 billion; agrees with the Auditor General in describing the report as an amber warning to the Scottish Government, and considers that it should also serve as a wake-up call.”

Costing: Latest figure for estate backlog contained in the Annual State of NHS Scotland Assets and Facilities Report for 2012 published on 11 January 2013 is £948m less the cost of disposals that NHS Boards have estimated will take place over the next 5 years of £175m, so the total cost of clearing the backlog would be £773m.