Swinney 'wrestling' with £100m overspend just weeks before end of financial year
JOHN Swinney has told MSPs that he is “wrestling with an estimated overspend” of approximately £100 million.
The startling revelation is at least £20m more than thought at the end of December.
The Deputy First Minister now only has a handful of weeks to balance the books before the end of the financial year.
Details of the pressures came during Thursday’s debate on the budget.
READ MORE: John Swinney urged to ‘ditch’ care service plans ahead of budget
Mr Swinney insisted the tax and spending plans for next year were “fair and ambitious” despite a “difficult set of choices.”
With the SNP and the Greens holding a majority in the Parliament, the budget cleared the stage one vote easily, with 68 MSPs backing it to 56.
The squeeze on council finances dominated the debate in Holyrood, with dire warnings of cuts to services, particularly social care.
The Scottish Government say the £13.2 billion for local government in the budget represents an increase of over £570m.
However, local authorities say that almost every penny is ring-fenced by ministers, with the increase closer to £71m.
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Opening the debate, Mr Swinny said that despite “the volatile financial environment,” ministers had “taken decisive action to deliver a meaningful and progressive budget for the year ahead that delivers for the people of Scotland.”
He said the SNP and the Greens were “working to create a progressive path for Scotland.”
Mr Swinney - covering the maternity leave of Finance Secretary Kate Forbes - said the government had prioritised investment in the National Health Service.
“I’m delighted that we are in a position to provide over £1 billion of an increase to the health service in Scotland.
“That provides over £13bn for NHS health and social care services in Scotland, supporting NHS Boards to continue to drive forward our five-year Recovery Plan.
“For social care and integration, we’re delivering £1.7bn of improvements, as we prepare for the introduction of the National Care Service, and we’ll support the delivery of the £10.90 real Living Wage for adult social care with an additional £100m.”
Later, responding to a question from Kenneth Gibson, the convenor of the Finance Committee about the size of the Scottish Government’s overspend, Mr Swinney said: “I am still wrestling with an estimated overspend at this stage in the financial year - which is a very advanced stage in the financial year - of approximately £100m.
“So we are still working to secure balance, despite the steps we have taken in the course of the year to reallocate public expenditure, and that’ll be reflected in the spring budget revisions that are put to parliament for scrutiny by the committee.”
READ MORE: John Swinney admits 'bleak' Budget as he highlights services reform
In her speech, Conservative finance spokesperson, Liz Smith urged Mr Swinney to scrap the care service. She said the £1.3bn minimum cost over the first five years should instead go to local government budgets, to deliver health and social care services
She said Mr Swinney “has had more money from the UK government than he has been prepared to admit.”
The Tory MSP said the structural weaknesses in the Scottish economy was because of “choices made right here in Scotland throughout the time the SNP has been in power.”
“The public doesn’t see their higher tax burden delivering far better public services – in health, in education, in transport, in policing, in housing. All they see at present is cuts, especially to local government.
“Scots are paying more than £1bn extra a year in tax. Yet, because of slower growth, it raises just £325m extra for public services.”
Labour’s Daniel Johnson said pausing the National Care Service could save £95m in the coming year. This, he said, could pay for pay in the social care sector to be increased to a minimum of £12 an hour, rather than the £10.90 proposed in Mr Swinney’s budget.
Green MSP Ross Greer said this was “greenest budget ever.”
“Scrapping peak time real fears from September will save travellers hundreds of pounds and end what the Aslef union correctly label a tax on commuters. 20,000 more children will be eligible for free school meals and £80m will be invested in expanding school catering facilities, so the eligibility can be expanded to even more children as soon as possible.”
He was criticised by former Labour leader Richard Leonard who said “Green element” of the government had made little difference to the choices of ministers.
“Tomorrow afternoon. I'm taking part in a cross party briefing with Jim Logue of North Ayrshire Council. They've got a £67m projected budget deficit. What am I going to tell him about the difference the green element to the SNP-green government is making?
“You’re doing exactly the same thing as previous SNP governments did and that is you're cutting services you’re cutting local jobs. What are you asking them to do? Sit and wait for a de facto referendum before anything changes? Because it's carrying on just as it was before? Where's your wealth tax now Ross Greer?”
Mr Greer said the budget proposals from Labour were “comically irresponsible.”