The SNP minority government in Holyrood has announced its proposed budget for 2011-12 (although current opinion polls suggest that the SNP will be voted out of office only four weeks into that financial year).
The Westminster grant to the Scottish government for 2011-12 will be cut by £1.2 billions. Over the next three years the Westminster grant is to be reduced by a total of £3.3 billions — an overall cut of 11% in real terms.
In the 1980s and early 1990s the SNP used to mock the Labour Party for failing to stand up to the then Tory government despite having control of most Scottish councils and 50 elected MPs in Scotland. Now the SNP has stepped into Labour’s shoes and is tamely passing on the Con-Dem cuts.
Public sector workers earning £21,000 a year or more will have their pay frozen. Those earning less than this will have their pay increased by a maximum of £250 a year — well short of what is needed to keep up with inflation.
This pay freeze will also set what SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney called “a framework” for pay negotiations with NHS staff, teachers, police and firefighters — meaning that they can expect to be offered the same.
“Efficiency savings” (i.e. cuts) of 3% are to be made in all Scottish government departments. Other cuts which the Scottish government plans to make are: £100 million (20%) from the housing and regeneration budget, and £200 million from the higher and further education budget.
(A report due later this year will address the question of university funding and may propose the introduction of fees in Scotland.)
A number of capital projects are to be funded using the so-called “Non-Profit-Distributing” model. This is the SNP’s version of Labour’s Public Private Partnership.
Local authority funding will be cut by 2.6%. But if local authorities fail to maintain police officer numbers, pupil-teacher ratios in the first three years of primary school, teaching posts, and the council tax freeze, then their funding will be cut by 6.4%. The SNP is trying to sell this as a reward for good behaviour!
In fact it represents an attack on local government democracy: any council that failed to adhere to the criteria set by the SNP government would need to levy an electorally suicidal double-digit council tax increase in order to compensate for the 6.4% cut in funding. Councils have until just before Christmas to make up their minds.
Labour’s response to the SNP budget, on which the final debate and vote will take place in February of next year, has been toothless.
SNP policies of maintaining concessionary travel and scrapping all prescription charges have been dismissed by Labour as “vanity projects” — a view certainly not shared by those who deservedly benefit from them.
The extension of the council tax freeze has been condemned by Labour (along with all the public sector unions) but in restrained terms (because Labour shares the SNP’s view that it is likely to prove electorally popular) and in the absence of any alternative.
Labour’s condemnation of the SNP budget is also riddled with hypocrisy – Labour’s Public Private Partnership was as least as bad as the “Non-Profit-Distributing” scheme, and if the SNP is passing on the Tories’ cuts, then Labour-controlled councils are themselves guilty of passing on the SNP’s cuts.
A week after the SNP’s budget announcement, for example, Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council announced its own budget for 2011-12.
Nearly £35 million is to be cut from the education budget, terms and conditions of council staff and teachers will be “reviewed” (i.e. worsened), mobile crèche facilities will be scrapped, and school meal prices will increase.
The social care budget will be cut, admission charges to sports facilities will be increased, voluntary sector funding will be cut and higher rents charged to voluntary sector organisations based in council properties.
The Unison-initiated “Defend Glasgow Services” campaign has written to all Glasgow MSPs and councillors, urging them to vote against the Scottish government and city council budget proposals, and to campaign instead for the adoption of “needs budgets”.
This is the right demand to raise. But sustained campaigning will be needed if this is to be achieved.