First Minister hits out at Labour's claim her government 'wasted' £40m on Rangers case
The First Minster has defended her government’s spending record against accusations from Scottish Labour that it has wasted £3bn of public money since coming to power.
During First Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the government had “wasted” sums including £152m on the controversial Ferguson Marine ferry contract, £146m “fixing mistakes” made during the construction of new hospitals in Edinburgh and Glasgow and almost a billion pounds on agency workers for the health service.
He added that the money, which he said equated to £1,200 for every household in Scotland, had been lost to “SNP incompetence”.
In refuting the claims, Nicola Sturgeon said that “what Anas Sarwar failed to mention is that this government has had 15 years’ of unqualified accounts – that is the reality in terms of our stewardship of the public finances”.
She took particular issue with Sarwar’s claim that the government had wasted close to £40m pursuing a “malicious” prosecution against the administrators of Rangers Football Club.
Last year the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service confirmed that the taxpayer had paid £24m to David Whitehouse and Paul Clark to settle a claim for wrongful prosecution that came as part of a wider fraud investigation into the collapse of the club.
A judge-led inquiry into the matter was ordered soon after and in December Scottish Government accounts showed that by March last year the total cost of the litigation had reached £39.92m.
In a heated exchange, Sturgeon said it was incorrect for Sarwar to accuse the government of wasting that money because “he is talking about prosecution” and that prosecution decisions are “matters for the independent Crown Office”.
“Is Anas Sarwar seriously saying that I as First Minister, or any minister of this government, should have interfered in the independent prosecution decisions of the Crown Office?,” she said.
Sarwar responded by repeating that the government had wasted £3bn of taxpayers’ money and questioned whether that was reasonable when, he said, mothers are going without food in order to feed their children amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and families are having to reject food offered at food banks because they have no means of cooking it.
However, Sturgeon returned to his claim about the Rangers case, noting that it is “actually a serious constitutional question”.
“If he thinks that is something that I could have influenced then is he saying that ministers should have been involved in influencing independent prosecution decisions or intervened in any way in that?,” she said.
The First Minister also said the costs relating to hospitals were “planned costs, which were in no way new, unexpected or avoidable”. Of the total quoted, she said £80m related to preparatory work that was separate to the main hospital contract but was budgeted for and included in the main business case.
In terms of the cost of living, Sturgeon said that “powers over energy and the cost of petrol are still reserved to Westminster and if he wants to change that then he should argue for those powers to come here”.