Finance Secretary’s draft budget out on Thursday

Finance Secretary John Swinney is to publish the Scottish Government’s draft Budget plans on Thursday 20th September.

This is expected to set out a further phase of support in Scotland’s strategy for economic recovery and place an emphasis on investment in infrastructure.

Over the past year the Scottish Government has announced a total of £485 million of additional investment in the Scottish economy, beyond the investment package announced in last year’s Spending Review.

In February this year the Government confirmed a package of £380 million of capital spending over the period to 2014-15. Then in June it announced a  further £105 million of investment directed at construction projects – making the total of £485 million.

These announcements are still chuntering out the awful mantra of ‘shovel ready’ to describe the projects to be funded.

This really should stop. It is anachronistic, conjuring a faux nostalgia for the sort of manual labour gangs that don’t exist any more in any se4rious degree. It is deceptive in suggesting that these projects are ready to roll immediately. They are not.

This is the sort of silly sound-bite spin that diminishes the impact of serious initiatives. Those of the electorate who are most certain to vote are dangerously alienated by this sort of nonsense but politicians in the Holyrood bubble do not understand this.

An example of the simple daftness of the ‘shovel ready’  mantra is in a hilarious sentence of the government press release announcing the imminent draft budget:  ‘The additional spending confirmed since last year is supporting shovel ready transport, housing, health, digital and maintenance projects, aimed at creating jobs and stimulating growth.’

While the electorate are regularly shocked at the too often unable and expensive outcomes of public sector software contracts, it is refreshingly honest to see the Scottish Government describe the rough approximations now gloomily expected as ‘shovel ready digital projects’. That’s about it.

The government has already switched over £700 million from resource budgets to support investment in job-creating capital projects and there is a  £2.5 billion pipeline of infrastructure investment being funded through the Scottish Government Non-Profit Distributing model.

The worry here is the debt commitment passed on to the future form these NPDO funded projects. They may be rather less pernicious than the infamous PPP and PFI funding initiatives but they are still heavily weighted towards a ‘jam today’ that burdens tomorrow in a financial world whose shape is currently beyond knowing.

Scottish Ministers will again make the case this week to UK Ministers for further economic stimulus through investment in infrastructural projects [and yes, the government does indeed describe these too as 'shovel ready']. They and colleagues from the Devolved Administrations meet at the Joint Ministerial Committee this coming Wednesday.

Cabinet Secretary John Swinney has, since this long  recession began, advocated such a policy for recovery and applied it consistently as best he can. The extent to which he has been successful in mitigating the impact of the recession on Scotland has been a potent force in the progressive agreement across the UK on the potential effectiveness of such a strategy. This development has recently been obvious in the pressure on Chancellor George Osborne to shift his stance away from simple retrenchment to pay down Britain’s huge debt burden.

It will be interesting and illuminating to see what Mr Swinney proposes in Thursday’s draft budget.

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