‘If Swinney budget was a film, it would go straight to DVD’

The most memorable statement in the debating chamber at Holyrood this afternoon came from the Scottish Conservative’s Finance Spokesperson, Gavin Brown.

Commenting on a two year budget put forward by Finance Secretary John Swinney which was marked by a plethora of detail on a raft of modest give-away measures with no discernible overarching economic development strategy, Mr Brown said that ‘If the budget was a film, it would go straight to DVD’.

This was not Mr Swinney’s finest moment.

You could sympathise with the pressure he was under because this was THE budget for independence, the flotation tank for the vote in a year’s time, September 2014.

That’s a lot of weight on one man’s back.

The main feature of the Finance Secretary’s speech was a repetitive threnody on example after example of the wicked Westminster government – and the imperative to vote for independence to be free of it.

The trouble with this was its lack of discrimination.

Everything was Westminster’s fault. Everything Westmister did was repressive, stupid, unevolved, unfair and discriminatory. Everything Scotland did was better – and everything Scotland wanted to do would be better.

The tedium of the predictability of this mantra undermined the credibility of the relentless assault.

Difficulties in Scotland, small medium and and large, were all down to Westminster. You began to wonder why we were still left with oxygen to breath.

The budget statement was also almost wholly unbalanced. The majority of Mr Swinnney’s airtime was spent in enumerating the modest sums being distributed and retained over a wide spectrum of social costs.

It was feel-good time alongside – to coin a phrase from yesterday’s interrogation of the BBC  aye-do-wells – ‘Whack-a mole’ time, whacking Westmister with one hand and tossing lollipops to the masses with the other.

In contrast, the Finance secretary mentioned, in passing, a figure of £8 billion to be invested in Scottish infrastructure over the next two years – but gave no serious detail on what projects this was to be spent on.

Worse, he gave no sense whatsoever that there is an overall economic development plan – and what it is. Within that gaping hole, it is hardly surprising that Mr Swinney could give no picture of an overall infrastructural development plan.

In his brief mention of investment in infrastructure, Mr Swinney skated worryingly swiftly over a reference to the use of NPD [Not for Profit Distribution] borrowing. This is the financial instrument that has ratcheted up government borrowing levels already close to the 5%-of-budget cap they have formally adopted in relation to the implementation of the Scotland Act.

He said, in relation to NPD,  that the government would not spend more on borrowing than 5% of budget – without mentioning  that they have no current choice on this.

He said that the costs of NPD were currently lower than expected because some projects had come in under anticipated costs and others had not started yet because ‘they were taking longer to plan’. There were some indrawn breaths in the chamber around this part of the budget speech.

But, back to the easy bits that occupied most of the time of the address to the chamber.

The Finance Secretary told us that the Commonwealth Games legacy would get £24 million spent on it in 2015-16; that by 2016 the government would have built 30,000 affordable homes, 20,000 of which would be for social rent; that universal benefits would be maintained – the free bus passes, the free higher education tuition, the free NHS prescriptions and eye tests; and that £20 million would be spent now on mitigating the worst of the impacts of the UK’s genuinely iniquitous ‘bedroom tax’.

Here the lack of an intelligent – and yes, an independent – perspective on the issue took the legs from under the measure Mr Swinney was introducing.

Ask any local authority charged now with implementing the ‘bedroom tax’ and they will tell you that the burden and cost of dealing with it outweighs the savings made.

Mr Swinney has now made things a great deal worse for the councils.

As Labour Finance Spokesperson Iain Gray, pointed out in his immediate response to the budget, £20 million is a  very small amount of money spread across the nation. Local authorities, through whom this modest alleviation for  a few will  be delivered, will now have the additional burden – and staffing costs – of deciding who gets it and who does not – and possibly dealing with appeals against decisions made.

Iain Gray also pointed out that Mr Swinney – who made frequent use elsewhere of specific financial allocations to come in 2015-16 and beyond – had made no mention of any mitigation at all for the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ in 2014-15.

The only response Mr Swinney could make to that was a blushing and empty bluster that no one should imagine that ‘I am going to let the Westminster Government away with that’.

Like far too much of what Mr Swinney was doing today, this was about appearance and not about reality; about political rhetoric and not about fiscal management. He said it was a budget for growth but gave no evidence to show how it was going to support and sustain growth.

He also made knowing use of sleight of hand in bis awards of the goody bags – a matter quickly nailed by Gavin Brown.

Mr Swinney had made much of an ‘increase’ in budget being given to the Scottish colleges to support the education and training they offer to support the employment of young people.

He trumpeted his decision to increase the Scottish Colleges Resource Budget to £256 million in 2015-16.

Gavin Brown drew attention to the fact that there had already been a national row over the previous cutting of the Colleges Resource budget – from £560 million to the £522 million it is presently allocated.

He asked, pertinently and unanswerably – quite how the Finance Secretary could hope to present a budget 0f £526 million, down from £560 million, as an increase. Mr Swinney wriggled on the pin.

Mr Brown also enquired how the Finance Secretary could defend a budgetary decision to give Scottish Water a total of £535 million over the two years. There was no response to this.

He then asked why the focus of the budget was on spending – including the retention without debate of universal benefits, while disguising the fact that businesses were being penalised even more to pay for it.

He reminded the Finance Secretary that on the day it had become known that Scotland had 10,000 more people out of work, it made little sense to cripple the businesses the economy needs to succeed and to lift employment. He pointed to Page 163 of the budget papers the Finance Secretary is raising business rates – taking a minimum of an additional £50 million from that sector.

At no point in this two year budget was there any serious and detailed focus – or any strategic picture given – of an economic development plan. It was all about what would be spent on feel-goods, not on what Scotland could earn.

This was about finding the money for treats and a few goody bags – a declared sales pitch for the vote for the independence referendum

This was not about a shaping of the Scottish economy to meet the future with muscle and verve.

As such it lit no fires. It could hardly have been more disappointing.

And if it went straight to DVD it would be quickly remaindered.

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19 Responses to ‘If Swinney budget was a film, it would go straight to DVD’

  1. In what was supposed to be an opportunity for members of the public to ask the scottish cabinet questions in Campbeltown , the audience were subjected to an over long repetitive rant by Alex Salmond on the evils of Westminster and when a few members of the public eventually got to ask their questions , every answer quickly descended into a it’s all wicked Westminsters fault .
    Most of the people in the hall were disgusted by the behaviour of the SNP MSPs who came across as blinkered fanatics only interested in breaking up the United Kingdom .

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 24

    • Very reassuring. It’s the type of response that I’ve been picking up from Cambpeltown for quite a while now. Folk can see through them and their policies for votes.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 21

      • Don’t know where you live, but it can’t be Campbeltown since you can’t even spell the town’s name correctly. Little wonder then you wouldn’t be picking up the tremendous support for Scottish independence which exists in the town. The SNP talks up Scotland and its people. Perhaps you should try doing so, too, instead of sniping pathetically from the sidelines.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 10

  2. If Gavin Brown was suggesting it was a boring budget he might want to consider that the money found to mitigate the negative impact from the UK’s bedroom tax will be anything but boring news for those this ill-thought out policy directly affects here in Scotland.

    Still, my time reading this article wasn’t without use.

    It exposed my limited vocabulary prompting me to check the meaning of the word threnody.

    Sometimes an education on here

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 7

  3. Pingback: Lastest Education & Reference News - Viewk Blog | Viewk Blog

  4. “Everything was Westminster’s fault. Everything Westmister did was repressive, stupid, unevolved, unfair and discriminatory. Everything Scotland did was better – and everything Scotland wanted to do would be better.”
    Have you ever considered anyone elses point of view?
    And do you plan your budget 2 years ahead.
    Finally do you balance your budget every time?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

  5. Have you considered something radical Newsroom?
    Consider this the (sic) Spare Room Subsidy aka The Bedroom tax is a brainchild of Westminster. The UK Government say it will save, across the UK, approximately £500M pA (earthshattering stuff). We already know and the UN (via Rolnik) will soon too that the human cost is incalculable.
    As a result the Scottish Government, that you dismiss with snide aside, is allocationing significant sums (the £20m is additional) from their sharply slashed funding to help mitigate these costs in Scotland.
    This one example alone demonstrates the reason why we need to kick Westminster into touch. The only argument you could deploy to support your attack on Swinney’s language is predicated on support for this appalling Westminster policy.
    Radical I know, but shake your head and smell the coffee.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

    • If you had actually read what we said and not simply gone off on autopilot, you would have seen that we described the UK Government’s bedroom tax as ‘genuinely iniquitous’.
      And if you consider what we are saying about the £20 million to mitigate the worst impacts of this indefensible tax – for a few and for this year only – and the additional consequences it inflicts on local authorities, you would have to see the point.
      You talk of radicalism – there is absolutely nothing radical about this independence proposition. If there had been, it might have found substantially more support.
      What finished us off is the blend of ‘sameness’ with the lack of work done on key issues and the complete absence of any strategic economic development plan [and, frankly, dodgy economics with no real indication of how we would pay for all of the promises being made].
      This is more than disappointing because John Swinney is the most able by far of the SNP parliamentary party and arguably the most able amongst potential ministers from other parties – yet even he cannot rise above the level of local council thinking.
      All he is doing is handing out transient feel-good sweeties and working to keep the wheels on the road. This is the classic recipe for decline.
      Without a muscular strategy for growth – and strategy requires imagination as well as intellect, knowledge and experience – no country [no business, indeed] is going anywhere but the slide.
      This has been the one chance to think newly and the capacity to do this at the necessary level has simply not been there.
      We initially supported independence. We remain agnostic on independence as a concept and as an aspiration.
      But we have had to come down firmly in opposition to the independence that is proposed.
      Because it is not independence. It is ‘samey’ and fundamentally dependent.
      Worst, what is proposed is lamentably short of defensible evidence to support its claims.
      The proposition has no strategic plans of any kind. It rests on serial deception of the public and on refusals to disclose key information anyone is entitled to have before deciding to vote their country into unknown territory aboard a bus with no reverse gear and without a return ticket.
      In the great northern slang, the independence proposition and the campaign are ‘all mouth and trousers’.
      With the budget gone, the last hope is now The White Paper on independence.
      Mercifully, it was signalled yesterday that this will not be published until November after all – which indicates an awareness that this is indeed the last chance and that it MUST be indestructible.
      If this paper provides the case that has not yet been made and does so with achievable strategic vision backed by evidential robustness, dealing honestly and realistically with the practical issues involved, we will be amongst the first to respond positively.
      Do you really think that Scotland deserves less than this?
      Independence is not a community raffle. It is the most serious possible consideration and we do not yet have a serious proposition to support it.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

      • You miss my point entirely. This indefensible tax has been brought in by Westminster, by the Con Dem’s. You thought Mr Brown asked wonderful questions but he defends his colleagues in this outrageous policy.
        If we were independent we would not have this policy – QED. Smell the coffee!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

      • I don’t know if Lynda Henderson sees the irony of her accusing Ian Anderson of being on autopilot in a lengthy rant.

        On the other hand I detect a subtle shifting of position in her writings. It will be interesting to see what she says nearer the referendum.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  6. It would be interesting to know exactly how many people are genuinely affected by the so called ‘bedroom tax’. It isn’t:

    Those people in private rented accommodation
    People over 60 (or is it 65?)
    Quite obviously those who own or mortgage their own property and all the ongoing costs
    All those genuinely excluded from the policy

    And, before everyone starts jumping up and down accusing me of all sorts of support for Conservative policies that go against human rights or not knowing what I’m talking about I do have immediate family who are affected by the policy. They are on benefits and do not wish to move but seem to understand why the government has made this decision.

    Why should council tax payers have to pay for people to have extra bedrooms that they don’t need and others do?

    One good thing to come out of it for me is that the said relative is considering having another child. This policy could add to the population explosion!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8

    • You fail to address the fundamental point that there is often nowhere for these people to move to. The number of ‘smaller’ homes available is nowehere near the number of people the government want to move. So in essence people are being told to pay more or move into a non existent house!

      The government are, and were, fully aware of this when setting the policy which pegs it as incredibly cynical. Even the savings the government are publicising are calculated making the assumption that people won’t move.

      So they are boasting about savings they are going to make by implementing a policy which isn’t practical and will leave poor people poorer.

      The only good thing that has come out of it is reconfirming Scotland’s hatred of Tories and hopefully rebuilding it in England.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

      • Integrity? It’s a shame you appear to revel in the “hatred” of your fellow citizens .
        As far as Kintyre is concerned , there are an abundance of properties to let of all sizes .
        An issue I have not seen addressed on ForArgyll is the recent decision by A & B Council to impose a double council tax burden on the owners of empty residential properties .
        Perhaps Councillor George Freeman , Housing Convenor , can explain how landlords are expected to find tenants when there are hundreds of empty properties in this area , made worse by the SNP’s decision to build yet more unnecessary houses.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

        • Just to be clear my reference was hatred of the party and its policies, not to individual people.

          On the issue of council tax on empty homes I actually agree with you. I don’t support full exemption for empty houses but I do think that considerable discounts should be awarded.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

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