Scotland’s finance secretary has announced a further £615m of cuts to healthcare, education and the justice system, blaming the “calamity” of Liz Truss’s mini-budget.
John Swinney said he expected further deep spending cuts in the UK chancellor’s autumn statement, with a consequent reduction in Scottish funding.
Describing the combination of Brexit, Covid recovery and the energy crisis resulting from the war in Ukraine as unprecedented, Swinney told MSPs on Wednesday that he had never known a time of greater pressure on the public finances.
Announcing “reductions and reprioritisations” across a range of departments, as well as committing to cost of living support and public sector pay deals, he brought total cuts – when added to previously announced cuts of £560m – to almost £1.2bn.
The deputy prime minister said he had intended to present his long-awaited emergency budget review last week, but paused the announcement for Jeremy Hunt’s 31 October fiscal statement, which was then postponed until 17 November.
He told MSPs he had concluded he could wait no longer. “The scale of the challenge is so severe, and the impacts and uncertainties for people, households and businesses so significant, that the imperative consideration must be to provide as much stability, certainty and transparency as possible,” he said.
Reminding the Holyrood chamber that inflation meant the Scottish government’s annual budget was worth £1.7bn less than when it was published last December, he said the scrapping of the plan to cut the basic rate of income tax in the rest of the UK would reduce block grant funding by £230m.
Swinney set out a range of savings, including:
£116m from Covid budgets, including vaccines, tests and protect and PPE.
£21.2m from the justice and veterans budget.
£38m from the mental health budget – although Swinney said this referred to reducing budget growth, not a longer-term cut.
£2.9m from education, including reducing grants for international higher education and cuts to marketing expenditure.
£150m in capital infrastructure funding.
Swinney said he had also committed more than £700m of additional resources to fund public sector pay settlements, and he announced about £35m for cost of living support, including doubling the Scottish child bridging payment to £260, doubling the fuel insecurity fund, and a new £1.4m island cost crisis emergency fund to help island households manage higher energy costs.
The Scottish Conservatives’ finance spokesperson, Liz Smith, questioned why there had been no further cut to the constitution budget. “The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that he and his colleagues from him… prefer a divisive referendum to practical support measures,” she said.