By Bob Duncan
The first fruits of Johann Lamont’s recently-launched ‘Cuts Commission’ have been revealed, the SNP has claimed, after Labour MSP Ken Macintosh called for every penny of recently restored capital budget funds to be spent “entirely” on house building.
During yesterday’s Budget stage one debate, Scottish Labour’s shadow finance spokesman said that the entire £331 million of its capital budget, which was restored following the autumn budget statement, “should be allocated in its entirety to Scottish house building”.
Mr Macintosh added, “Mr Swinney again promised us a budget for jobs and growth, when he is doing little more than tinker round the edges of George Osbourne’s austerity plan. It is a convenient soundbite, nothing more.”
However Finance Minister John Swinney immediately hit back and pointed out that such a move would mean multi-million pound reductions in the budgets for a wide range of capital and refurbishment projects.
The £331 million is the Barnett consequential (Scottish share) of the capital spending boost announced by UK Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn statement last year. The move followed disappointing economic statistics for the UK and a lengthy campaign by the SNP which had argued that capital spending should be a priority.
According to the Scottish government, Labour’s demands would entail:
- a £22 million cut to transport and regeneration projects;
- a £19 million cut to further and higher education;
- and £11 million cut to economic development projects;
- a £10 million cut to NHS maintenance;
- a £10 million cut to the maintenance of the justice estate;
- a £7 million cut to forestry, national parks and tourism;
- a cut of almost £7 million to culture and heritage projects.
Mr Macintosh’s statement is the first indication of where Scottish Labour’s spending commitments might lie since Johann Lamont announced a review of universal benefits. Labour has now been challenged by the SNP to explain its policy which would lead to cuts in transport, education and economic development budgets.
John Mason MSP, who sits on the Finance Committee called for clarity from opposition parties: “Although lots of people have suggested how we could spend extra money, not many people have suggested how we could spend the present money better?”
Mr Mason added: “Nobody recognises the importance of investing in housing more than the SNP, which is why we have already allocated £50 million of this additional money for that very purpose, taking the total additional investment to almost £200 million in the last year.
“But the fact of the matter is that doing what Ken Macintosh has called for would mean significant cuts to other vital projects which are also in need of funding.
“I have no idea if Mr Macintosh was meant to tip Labour’s hand in this way but what is clear is Labour have not considered the impact that this would undoubtedly have on transport, education and economic development. This smacks of their usual approach of making demands first and worrying about the consequences later.
“It is simply not good enough to make these kinds of demands without explaining to people in Scotland why it is Labour thinks that the effects of these budget cuts would be justified.
“Calling for additional funds for something is easy, but as long as Scotland is constrained by devolution such calls mean cuts to another part of the budget.
“It is time for Labour to face up to these consequences and make clear whether these cuts are really what they want to see imposed on Scotland.”