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by Louise Wilson
26 April 2021
‘Lack of realism’ in three main party manifesto pledges


‘Lack of realism’ in three main party manifesto pledges

A “lack of realism” unites the manifestos of all three of the biggest parties for this Scottish Parliament election, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

The economic thinktank has warned spending promises made by the SNP, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour are unlikely to be delivered without tax rises or cuts to other services.

It says all three parties underestimate how much will be needed to deliver some of their commitments, particularly in relation to health and social care.

The analysis also criticised the failure of the SNP and Labour to provide transparent costings for their plans, while adding the Conservatives’ costings document underestimated its flagship policy on the NHS by at least £600 million.

The three manifestos all commit to an expansion of the welfare state in some form, including doubling the Scottish Child Payment, free school meals and increasing free childcare.

And while the IFS accepts there is likely to be more funding for the Scottish Government in the years ahead caused by an increase in UK Government spending, it warns this will not been of the scale needed to fund all pledges.

David Phillips, associate director at the IFS, said the manifestos shared a “disconnect from the fiscal reality the next Scottish Government is likely to face”.

He added: “Rising demand for, and costs of, health and social care could easily absorb three-quarters of the projected cash increase in the Scottish Government’s budget over the next few years, substantially more than the SNP and Conservatives have budgeted for.

“Scottish Labour have not even set out NHS spending plans beyond this year but it is hard to imagine them spending less given their plans for a £15-an-hour minimum wage for care workers by the end of the parliament.

“Paying for the billions in additional pledges in these manifestos would therefore mean either increases in Scottish taxes or cuts to some other areas of spending, unless substantially more UK Government funding is forthcoming.”

The analysis said the SNP and Labour have committed to spending significantly more than the Conservatives, but the Tories had also set out a plan to reduce overall tax levels.

The IFS said Labour would be hardest pressed to deliver its commitments this year – the only year it has set out a costed plan for – because the cost of the proposals significantly exceed unallocated funding available to the Scottish Government.

It said the Conservatives’ plan for this year is “potentially” deliverable, while the SNP had provided little detail on its spending plans which gives them some flexibility to respond to COVID recovery post-election.

On the NHS, the SNP and Conservatives have committed to an increase of £2.5 billion and £2 billion by the end of the next parliament, respectively.

But the IFS said both parties would likely have to spend more than this to meet their other pledges relating the healthcare and keep pace with demands on the health service.

It said it was “difficult to escape the conclusion” both parties had downplayed the necessary increase need to “flatter the amount available” for other commitments.

Scottish Labour did not provide figures for NHS funding in its manifesto, but the IFS said it was unlikely to be less than the SNP or Conservatives, particularly given their plan to increase wages.

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