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by Kirsteen Paterson
06 February 2024
Scottish Government health spending will be lower than Budget papers say, think tank claims

Depute First Minister Shona Robison | Alamy

Scottish Government health spending will be lower than Budget papers say, think tank claims

Finance secretary Shona Robison has been urged to redo her sums over claims that health and social care funding will suffer a real-terms spending cut under Scottish Government budget plans.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said its analysis reveals a 0.7 per cent real-term decrease in the NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care portfolio for 2024-25.

The claim is based on a year-on-year comparison and comes despite Budget papers suggesting a 1.3 per cent increase over that period.

The IFS said the official figures "do not include in-year top-ups" that have been added to the health and social care pot since the 2023-24 plan was set out.

When that is added in, it says "current plans are for spending next year to be lower than actual spending this year, which suggests we can expect a top-up to the Scottish NHS budget before next winter".

That, it claims, could be done by reducing spending in other areas.

It will be a "tough period for public spending" unless the UK Government increases funding to the SNP-Green administration, the IFS said, with annual growth in public spending until 2028-29 reaching just one per cent per year.

Such a boost from Westminster could come through the Barnett formula, with any increase to spending on health services in England resulting in a proportional share of that sum for Scotland.

The IFS said: "Even modest growth in health spending would lead to cuts in other public services."

In analysis released today, the London-based body said the picture is similar for local government. While Budget papers show council cash increasing by 6.2 per cent in real terms for 2024-25, the IFS found that this does not include top-ups made during 2023-24. When these are included, the increase reduces to 1.8 per cent in real terms, including council tax, it has claimed.

The IFS said the picture facing the Scottish NHS and councils is "likely to be even tougher than these figures suggest" as a result of inflationary cost increases and the impact of pay rises.

Research economist Bee Boileau said funding from devolved taxes could have a bearing, and there will not be "real clarity" on UK funding allocations to public services until after the general election.

Associate director David Phillips said: "The Scottish Government has argued that comparing its latest spending plans for one year with its initial budgets for the next year, as we think is better, is problematic. It says this ignores the fact that plans stated in the next year can change too. And yes, they often do. But plans are plans, and at present the latest stated plan is to spend less on health next year than was spent this year."

Labour finance spokesperson Michael Marra called on the Scottish Government to "come clean with Scots about its spending plans", while Conservative Liz Smith called on finance secretary Shona Robison to "immediately take these concerns on board and revisit her sums".

LibDem economy spokesperson Willie Rennie said: "The SNP-Green government will try every trick in the book to avoid admitting their serial failure to get the Scottish economy growing.

"They are planning biting cuts to public services and they can't even be honest about it. Scots on waiting lists and in local communities are the ones who will pay the price."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Scottish ministers have provided a real terms increase in health funding when comparing the opening position for 2024-25 with 2023-24. This includes fully passing on all health consequentials received for 2024-25.

"As ministers have said, this Budget was delivered against the backdrop of a UK Autumn Statement that prioritised tax cuts at the expense of spending on public services. As this IFS report acknowledges, additional in-year funding is crucial to maintaining that real terms growth, requiring the UK Government to prioritise additional funding for health over the course of the year."



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