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'Cuts commission' formed to find £3 billion spending cuts
Key budget concession to Conservatives will look at spending priorities
Wednesday, 17 February, 2010 | 09:00

An independent budget review is to be launched to examine Scotland’s public spending plans over the next 4 years. The move is designed to address the Scottish Government's £3 billion budget deficit. 

The group of public and private sector experts are set to report on spending priorities by the end of July.

The review was a concession to Conservative demands, which allowed the SNP government force through its latest budget.

A Tory spokesperson told The Journal the party were glad their idea had been taken on board as it is “a key factor in considering our options during this time of economic hardship.”

The move is similar to a committee set up in the Irish Republic in 2008, which reported last year on potential savings of £5.3 billion.

A SNP spokesperson said they were delighted the budget had passed at the first time of asking and that “in the face of such tough cuts from Westminster, the panel will be better for Scotland and help it cope.”

There is speculation that changes in the provision of free higher education, free personal care, free school meals and prescriptions may be among the suggestions made by the review. 

The future of Scottish Water is likely to be debated, as is the idea of shifting some services from local authorities to the private and voluntary sectors. 

Communications Manager at Age Concern and Help the Aged Scotland, Lindsay Scott, said: “Why is free personal care always the subject of speculation when it comes to mooted cuts?  It costs less than 1 percent of the budget as it currently stands and is cost effective in that thousands of older people are assisted in their own homes instead of Accident and Emergency, care homes and hospitals.”

She added:  “We believe we urgently need to examine issues such as how effectively we are delivering health and social care, and whether we really require all the local authorities and health boards we have to do this to optimum effect.”

 

Concessions were also made to the Liberal Democrats in the budget, with Swinney agreeing to their demand for £20 million towards college places and £10 million to help struggling businesses, which helped ensure the party did not vote against the budget. However, he did not agree to their demand for a 5 percent pay cut among the highest earners in the public sector, leading to their abstention. A spokesperson for the party informed The Journal that they were “optimistic the panel would look at their constructive suggestions.”

Labour voted against the budget in protest to the airport-rail link not being reinstated. A party representative highlighted the vote was influenced by a disagreement with the SNP over how student funding money should be allocated.

However, there has been a more positive reception to the commission within the opposition. Labour MSP for Edinburgh North and Leith, Malcolm Chisholm told The Journal: "It is a good idea in principle, as was the Howat review. It depends who's on it, but I expect they will come up with some interesting and controversial suggestions."

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