Wednesday saw the publication of the SNP’s draft Budget plans for 2011/12.
There are parts we welcome: the Scottish Conservatives have been the only party to support the Council Tax Freeze, and we support extending it. Protecting Police numbers – a key Conservative concession in the 2008 Budget – is also welcome. Pay restraint won’t be popular, but it will mean that fewer people lose their jobs than if we don’t take action.
In some areas, we need more information on what the Budget would mean in practice. For example, can the prisons budget be reduced by as much as planned without negative consequences on law and order?
On a strategic level, we know that spending levels will be lower in the future – not as low as predicted, and around the same as in 2005/6, but lower nonetheless. We think that means the case for reforming public services is more compelling than ever. Does the Budget do that? We remain to be convinced. And it is difficult to know why only in Scotland should the Government resist publishing longer term spending plans. In a spending review year, the Scottish Government has always published projections for later years. The fact that the SNP Government hasn’t done that this year raises concerns about the sustainability of the plans.
So the jury is still out. That’s hardly surprising – the Committee scrutiny has yet to begin, and in previous years it has been discussions in January/February, rather than the autumn, which really determine whether there is a majority in Parliament for the plans.