Straight after summer recess, I was delighted to have been elected to sit on the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament. This position will give me the opportunity to scrutinise spending by the UK Government and ensure tax payers in Ochil & South Perthshire, and across the UK get value for money. However, as I begin to settle into the new role, I am becoming increasingly concerned about public spending on our doorstep by the SNP administration in Edinburgh.
Jim Gallagher’s recent report has unveiled that while the Scottish Government is in charge of public spending budgets that are consistently higher than those in England, the money is not reaching the front line of public services in Scotland (Scotland received a real terms increase of £612m in the block grant since 2010). The purpose of devolution was to enable Scotland to make decisions that better reflect the needs and priorities of local people, whilst giving more power to our communities. However, this hasn’t happened and cannot happen if the SNP continue to centralise and only reflect the priorities of the SNP.
People in my constituency and around Scotland have been repeatedly dragged through a constitutional argument on loop by the SNP, while health and education spending on the front line has suffered. We all rely on the NHS, it is one of our greatest assets as a nation. Unfortunately, data shows that it has been an area of low priority for the SNP – despite the increase in overall budget coming from Westminster the SNP has chosen to squeeze its resources, leaving the NHS net spend lagging behind other devolved spending. If spending had continued to increase in line with total devolved spending, the Scottish health system would be £1bn a year better off.
Education under the SNP is an ongoing concern as well, as the SNP continue to fail pupils across the country with their ‘curriculum for excellence’. Scotland’s school spending virtually matches that of England, and yet fewer children from low income backgrounds are attending university in Scotland than in the south, whilst literacy and numeracy rates continue to be low.
The SNP have been in control of high devolved budgets for a decade, yet they have allowed front line services to suffer because they have not made them a priority – their only priority is to push their agenda of separation. And just this week, the SNP did not oppose a motion in the Scottish Parliament to raise the basic rate of income tax, so in spite of having higher levels of spending vs. other parts of the UK, the SNP is further threatening the pay packets of many in my constituency.
Devolution should have been a real opportunity for Scotland. But by neglecting the day job over a decade in power, the SNP are failing the people of Scotland where it really matters. Westminster and Holyrood should work together to deliver services; Westminster has provided higher levels of funding, it is for Holyrood to choose the right priorities.
Professor Jim Gallagher, ‘Public Spending in Scotland: Relatives and Priorities’,2017