Counting the cost of budget cuts

Talking to constituents over the last few weeks it’s clear to me that people are deeply worried about the economy, the rising cost of living and the loss of local services. Unfortunately the budgets set last month for Scottish and local spending will make life tougher for many people.

When households and businesses are struggling to keep their heads above water government at every level should be focusing on policies to help us move out of recession. Sadly I do not believe that the SNP have achieved this either nationally or, in partnership with the Lib Dems, locally.

I don’t believe that the SNP is doing nearly enough to promote growth in the economy or provide jobs and opportunities for young people. Under their watch unemployment in Scotland has increased, while funding for higher education has been slashed and enterprise budgets cut.

The inconvenient truth for the SNP Government is that all of the cuts that have come up to now have come despite rising Scottish budgets. As the UK ConDem Government cuts too fast and too deep the challenge for the SNP Government is to use all the policy and spending levers at its disposal to steer Scotland through tough economic times. January’s VAT rise by the UK Government has led to inflationary pressure which is in turn damaging businesses hit by people cutting back on their personal spending as they worry whether their jobs are safe.

During this year’s Scottish budget negotiations Labour MSPs sought to address these issues seeking support from the SNP for a future jobs fund to create 10,000 new jobs. What we were offered was half measures. While there were proposals in the budget that we welcome, on balance we felt it was the wrong budget for Scotland and we could not support it.

At the local level the Edinburgh SNP/Lib Dem Council passed a budget which will hit front line services in the city. The budget, which was passed by only one vote, will see significant cuts to front line services, including schools, libraries, refuse collection and the voluntary sector. The ruling SNP and Lib Dem groups rejected Labour proposals for no compulsory redundancies. A reported 1,200 jobs will go.

In January the local Labour Party consulted with local parents groups and voluntary sector organisations to identify priorities. The result of these discussions was an alternative budget, put forward by my colleagues in the Labour group which gathered support from other parties represented on the Council. These proposals would have protected funding for frontline services and, crucially in these economic times, protected workers from compulsory redundancy.

To pay for this there would have been a more concerted effort to find efficiencies in back office functions. This would have included putting a stop to wasteful spending on unnecessary publications and reducing the use of external consultants.

Over the past few months I’ve been pushing for the Council to protect services for vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities and older people. I’m also concerned that at a time when 17% of the city’s school leavers are going straight onto the dole that there are cuts to training services and school budgets are under massive pressure.

The reality is that savings will have to be made to meet the £90million shortfall the Council faces over the next three years, but the ruling SNP/Lib Dem administration has made the wrong choices. Vital services will be badly damaged.