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by Louise Wilson
31 January 2024
Scottish Government ‘procrastinating’ on finance decisions, MSPs warn

Photo by Andrew Perry

Scottish Government ‘procrastinating’ on finance decisions, MSPs warn

The Scottish Government is “procrastinating” on making important decisions relating to the public purse, the parliament’s finance committee has warned.

The cross-party committee, delivering its report on the Scottish Budget for 2024-25, said the government needed more long-term financial planning in order to ensure public finances are sustainable.

It was said it was “unclear” spending had be prioritised for its stated aims, and that in some instances “some individual decisions appear to conflict with the priorities of tackling poverty, growing the economy and prioritising public services”.

MSPs also expressed concern about the “uncertainty” surrounding possible behavioural impacts on the plan to create a new tax band for those earning over £75,000.

Convener Kenneth Gibson said: “The Scottish Government needs to deliver long-term financial planning. At present it gives the impression that it’s procrastinating on important decision-making that would help the sustainability of Scotland’s public finances, albeit in the medium and longer-term.”

The committee has also called on the government to explain why it delayed its public sector pay policy for 2024-25, an updated infrastructure project pipeline, and a financial strategy for public service reform.

It said there were “few other signs of progress” towards public sector reform in particular, which is says it “critical” to sustainability.

Gibson added: “Significant pressure on Scotland’s public finances have presented difficult tax and spending decisions in the budget. Everybody recognises that.

“The Scottish Government priorities are based on delivering its three ‘missions’ of equality, opportunity and community.  However, there was a great divergence in views from witnesses on what those priorities should be, with the focus understandably in areas where budgets will be reduced rather than increased.”

Finance secretary Shona Robison delivered the budget in December and the committee’s report is part of the stage-one scrutiny of the bill.

The first parliamentary debate on the bill is set to take place next week, followed by an amendment stage, with the final bill to be passed by the end of the month.

Conservative finance spokesperson Liz Smith said: “This is a hard-hitting report which expresses the committee’s unanimous concerns that the budget decisions taken by the SNP-Green government are at odds with the need to create economic growth, improve the delivery of public services and tackle poverty.”

Labour’s Michael Marra said: “This damning report exposes this SNP Government's woeful approach to budgeting… Worse still, the SNP government refuses to face up to the fundamental challenges facing Scotland's public finances, and the public services on which we all rely.”

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