Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Budget Thought

Too many thoughts about the budget to put them down now, but there's one piece of spin which deserves to be nailed right here and now.

I'm going to pick on Alex Massie. Not because his is or will be the most egregious example of it at work - far from it - there'll be plenty Labour and Lib Dem figures trotting it out with varying degrees of skill and understanding between now and the election. Simply, I'm singling him out because his is the link I have to hand.

The contention is that a cut to the Scottish block grant is justified, since if efficiencies have to be found elsewhere in the UK, then they should have to be found in Scotland also. Fair enough, but one based sadly on the incorrect premise that the Scottish Government isn't already seeking to make efficiencies.

In fact, the Scottish Government is looking for savings of 1.5% each year within its budget, and using the savings to help fund initiatives like the council tax freeze and the Small Business Bonus scheme. Rather, what's coming down the line is an actual cut to the Scottish budget, which will mean having to find even more efficiencies over and above those already being found if current spending lines are to be continued.

It's a legitimate argument to say that more efficiencies could be found, but to start from the premise that none are being found currently and will only occur as a result of a budget cut, is misleading to say the least. I don't suppose it will stop Jim Murphy trying to argue it, though.

Incidentally, it's interesting to see congruence between Labour at Westminster and the SNP Government that the true scale of the spending cuts facing Scotland will, as the SNP has always said, be in the order of £500m, which kind of destroys Iain Gray's apparent freelance contentions yesterday that the Scottish budget would continue to grow in real terms. If Brown accepts his own premise that you can't cut your way out of recession (as his deputy appears to), it's strange that that's the course he's decided to set for Scotland.

UPDATE: Alex Massie responds.

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