Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Finance Secretary John Swinney bids to secure support for Scottish budget by way of consensus with opposition parties, local gov reform needs to start
A week after the Scottish Holyrood, I bumped into Nicola Sturgeon in the street, one of the things we talked about was the need for the Scottish Government to continue with the consensus approach that serve them so well in the last term of office, she thought that it was very much the way to go.
Then the bill for sectarianism was brought forward which all opposition parties rightly opposed as bad law.
The consensus approach was abandoned as this ill judged piece of rubbish was pushed through to meet a football start deadline.
It wasn’t the SNP’s finest hour.
However, I am pleased that Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney has decided to return to the consensus approach by offering last minute changes to his budget in an effort to secure opposition support.
He doesn’t need their votes but that isn’t the point, the budget is about allowing other views by parties to get something from the process for areas they express interest in.
I don’t know if Labour will support the budget as previously they asked for concessions, got them and still voted against the budget.
Sheer stupidity, it made a mockery of them entering negotiations in the first place.
The government's £30bn spending plans will be passed by parliament.
So, what do we need, well additional money for colleges is a key item for me, education needs major overhaul, college sector needs expanding and universities slimmed down to address the financial black hole.
Other desirable areas possibly benefiting are housing and sustainable transport - which have emerged as key issues in talks.
John Swinney’s spending plans will deliver 25,000 apprenticeships, protect NHS spending and fund vital construction projects.
And it is wrong by opposition parties to say that they are concerned the budget fails to support the economy.
The detail is there, John Swinney has proven himself to be excellent as the Scottish Finance Secretary.
The claim by Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems that the proposals do not do enough to address unemployment is bogus, he is spending to support jobs.
As I say, I am keen to have a reversing £70m of cuts to college funding by 2015 but it isn’t a straightforward issue, the budget is like a supertanker, it can’t stop on a dime, John Swinney says that idea is still "under consideration and discussion".
But it is tricky, he might be able to pull it off, but reality is that unless the major work in reform is started, his options are unnecessarily restricted.
He has to work round things that badly need reformed.
The second term of Holyrood should have been about local government reform; that essential work seems to have been shelved.
Labour finance spokesman Ken Macintosh said the Scottish government was passing on Westminster Tory cuts, while trying to escape the blame for them.
Nice of Ken Macintosh to stick the blame where it belongs!
"The truth is that it is their spending decisions that are cutting budgets for colleges, housing and local government services. With the economic case for separation unravelling by the day, the SNP government is showing they are unable to effectively use the powers they do have to help Scotland in these hard times."
The Lib Dems' education spokesman, Liam McArthur, urged the government to heed calls on reversing college cuts.
"At a time when Scotland's unemployment rate is rising faster the elsewhere in the UK, and youth unemployment is seen as a priority, this attack by the SNP on colleges defies understanding. Colleges help people of all ages, in all parts of the country to get up and get on."
This problem could be part solved by breaking up the Scottish Funding Council into two distinct and separate identities but there is more to it.
The Tories' Liz Smith, said:
"It is simply staggering that, at a time, when there are no fewer than 88,000 young people aged 18-24 unemployed in Scotland, the college sector is being asked to cope with cuts of 8.5% in teaching grants on top of the all the cuts they suffered last year. The SNP have lost all credibility in this debate - on one hand they promise flagship policies to help young people find work, but then on the other they are carrying out severe cuts to the college sector."
Ideas have their place in time, and for the SNP, it is time to move on my idea for colleges.
On Thursday, John Swinney is due to set out the funding deal for Scotland's 32 councils that budget will pass, the SNP majority secures that, but there is only so much money floating about the place.
That means local government reform, this is the Eiger that must be climbed; the task is huge and only climbable straight up the ‘north face’, this project maybe shelved until after the referendum in 2014.
After 2014, the SNP Government like an army will have used up its ‘reserves’ and at that point, change whether they like it or not will be forced on them.
John Swinney is a brilliant Scottish Finance Secretary but even he needs the tools of his trade to do the business and the business is the liquidity problems!
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University