Finance committee seeks reassurance that government will divert cash to those 'most in need'
Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee has urged the Scottish Government to give more detail on its spending plans for the remainder of the parliamentary term to ensure that money is being directed to “those areas that can make most difference to those most in need”.
At the end of last year the government published a consultation document detailing how it plans to allocate funds to resource spending, which includes school meals, concessionary bus passes and public sector salaries, over the coming years.
The document, entitled Investing in Scotland’s Future: Resource Spending Review Framework, is intended to be taken alongside Investing for jobs: Capital Spending Review 2021-22 to 2025-26 to give a full picture of the government’s multi-year spending plans. It is also expected to form the basis of the government’s first resource spending review since 2011.
However, committee convener Kenneth Gibson said that as the review “comes at a time of significant pressure on the public purse, with the risk of high levels of inflation and a cost-of-living crisis pushing more people into poverty” the government must provide more information on its plans before the review is formally announced in the summer.
“Our committee believes that more detail on the full economic and political situation within which the spending review is being undertaken would have been helpful in providing more context and transparency to the actions being considered,” he said.
“This is particularly important in times of significant pressure on public finances where difficult decisions and reprioritisation of spending choices may be required to ensure that public finances in Scotland remain on a stable footing.”
Within its consultation document the government said the main priorities of the review would be to support progress towards meeting child poverty targets, address climate change, and secure a stronger, fairer, greener economy.
In its report, the committee noted that while these priorities were broadly accepted by the experts it took evidence from, there were concerns about the lack of detail around how they were chosen and how they would be pursued.
The committee also said that more consideration needed to be given to whether Covid recovery should feature more prominently in the review “given the lasting effects on our society and the economy, and the need for urgent action as identified in the Scottish Government's Covid Recovery Strategy”.
The intervention from the committee, which said its oversight was designed to “complement rather than duplicate” the work of the consultation, comes after it said in January that the government needed to more transparent about the spending plans outlined in the budget for the year ahead.
In particular, it said the government had not been clear about where funding for its Covid recovery programme was coming from.
“Our recent budget scrutiny highlighted demographic challenges and the trends behind the relative deterioration in income tax receipts forecast by the Scottish Fiscal Commission in December 2021,” Gibson said.
“We plan to return to this issue of how to grow the tax base as part of our pre-budget scrutiny starting in May and will report to the Scottish Government on this matter later in the year.
“In the meantime, we believe that these important issues should be reflected within the context of this spending review.”