John Swinney warns of ‘difficult choices’ as £500m spending cuts confirmed
The Scottish Government has announced cuts totaling £500m to public services as it attempts to balance the books in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis.
John Swinney said the “savings” were necessary in order to fully fund the additional £700m needed for public sector pay deals.
But he also warned of further “difficult choices” ahead if the government is to provide more help to struggling households amid rising inflation.
The deputy first minister – who is standing in as finance secretary while Kate Forbes is on maternity leave – said: “In times of crisis the job of the finance secretary is not simply to balance the books. It is to find the money to help families, to back business and to fund the priority projects that improve lives for the long term.”
He also urged the UK Government to “act to end this crisis”, adding the Scottish Government had to work within a fixed budget but his UK counterparts had access to other levers.
In a letter sent to Holyrood’s finance committee, Swinney details the nature of the cuts and additional income, including over £108m from the social justice portfolio, almost £60m from the net zero portfolio and £120m via the “reprioritisation” of capital support for local government.
The budget for employability schemes will be cut by £53m.
But extra cash is expected to come from the ScotWind clearing process, and less is needed for cover concessionary travel due a reduction in patronage.
“For avoidance of doubt, further savings will be required to balance the budget, particularly if inflation continues to rise, and to direct maximum support to those who need it most. Any further savings that are identified during the Emergency Budget Review will be over and above those detailed here,” the deputy first minister added.
Scottish Conservative social justice spokesperson Miles Briggs criticised the Scottish Government’s decision to cut employability services and urged it to “invest in jobs”.
He said: “That is such an important part, if we are going to face a recession, of getting people into work and saving jobs in Scotland. At the same time, this SNP is keeping £20m aside for a referendum.”
Scottish Labour finance spokesperson Daniel Johnson called for greater transparency on the funding shortfall the government faces.
He urged the cabinet secretary to set out the plans civil servants are considering for potential future cuts.