Scottish budget ‘lacked coherence’ say MSPs
The first Scottish budget under Humza Yousaf’s leadership lacked coherence and clarity in his attempts to prioritise economic growth and public services, according to a committee of MSPs.
Soon after his election as First Minister, Mr Yousaf set out his plans to tackle poverty through tax rises and growing the economy.
A report from Holyrood’s finance and public administration committee said these ambitions were not in evidence in the Budget presented by Shona Robison, the deputy first minister, before Christmas.
It was criticised for tax hikes, cuts to the enterprise and housing budgets and a failure to match business rates relief available south of the border.
“We remain to be convinced that this prioritisation exercise has been carried out in a strategic, coherent and co-ordinated way,” said the MSPs report.
“In fact some individual decisions appear to conflict with the priorities of tackling poverty, growing the economy and prioritising public services.”
The report criticised the government’s refusal to publish a number of supporting documents, including its multi-year spending plans, the public sector pay policy 2024-25, an updated infrastructure project pipeline and a financial strategy for public service reform, all of which have been delayed. The pay policy is usually published alongside the budget but was missing.
“The impression given is that the Scottish Government is procrastinating on important decision-making that would help support medium- and longer-term sustainability of Scotland’s public finances,” said the report.
Local authorities have claimed they will be forced to cut back on services while the reduction in the housing portfolio has been condemned by charity groups and industry.
SNP ministers have blamed the difficult financial environment on the impacts of inflation, Brexit and the freezing of public spending by the UK government.
Kenny Gibson, the convener of the committee, which has three SNP members, two Conservative and one each from Green and Labour, said: “The committee is unclear how spending has been prioritised towards a fair, green and growing economy.
“Regarding taxation, there is uncertainty about the behavioural impact on taxpayers earning more than £75,000 per year and when there will be a fundamental review of the council tax.
“The Scottish government needs to deliver long-term financial planning. At present it gives the impression that it’s procrastinating on important decision-making that would help the sustainability of Scotland’s public finances, albeit in the medium and longer-term.”
Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservatives finance spokesperson, said: “This is a hard-hitting report which expresses the committee’s unanimous concerns that the budget decisions taken by the SNP-Green government are at odds with the need to create economic growth, improve the delivery of public services and tackle poverty.
“The committee is clear that there has not been nearly enough focus on long-term planning for the economy in order to address the substantial fiscal deficit or on the badly needed reform of public services which the SNP promised.”
Michael Marra, Scottish Labour’s finance spokesperson, argued the budget was littered with errors, inconsistencies and was missing key data.
“This damning report exposes this SNP government’s woeful approach to budgeting,” he said.
“Worse still, the SNP government refuses to face up to the fundamental challenges facing Scotland’s public finances, and the public services on which we all rely. This is not a serious government, Scotland deserves far better.”
Yesterday Neil Gray, the wellbeing economy secretary, told the economy and fair work committee that he felt money had been prioritised in the right areas.
He said: “The budget underlines our commitment to progressing the first minister’s three missions of equality, opportunity and community.
“I believe despite the challenging fiscal context we are faced we have delivered a package that will help to deliver a fair, green and growing economy.”