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UNISONScotland Response to
Scottish Executive document
Making a Difference for Scotland
(includes draft budget and spending plans for
2001-02 to 2003-04)

 

 

Background

This paper constitutes a response from UNISON Scotland to the Scottish Executive document Making a Difference for Scotland which includes the draft budget and spending plans for 2001-02 to 2003-04. This paper builds on our response to the Stage 1 consultation included in the Annual Expenditure Report.

UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union and represents staff in almost all of the areas highlighted in the spending plans.

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Introduction

UNISON was critical of the superficial nature of last years budget process although recognising that it was a new and welcome attempt to provide a more transparent and accountable system..

In the Stage 1 paper this year the financial plans went down to Level 3 and included some helpful commentary and performance indicators. Whilst we welcomed this as a significant improvement on last year we argued that Level 3 still only provides a superficial view of the major spending departments. We also argued that the presentation of figures in the Stage1 document could be improved. In particular changes in budget lines from last year make comparisons difficult and the presentation of capital and revenue expenditure (including PFI costs) are unclear. Other policy objectives (e.g. community care) are split into several headings making it difficult to see the total picture.

When considering Making a Difference for Scotland we are left with the impression that the Executive is now making the position worse rather than better. This document does not even include the level of detail provided in the Stage 1 document. We appear to have returned to broad headings and text which cannot be traced back to hard figures. In these circumstances it is almost impossible to comment sensibly on the draft budget. In the spirit of openness which should be the hallmark of the Scottish Parliament we would still press for the full budget to be published as a separate document.

We remain concerned over the growth of budgets under the direct control of ministers at the expense of those administered by other bodies who are also under democratic scrutiny. In addition there is a growth in hypothecated allocations which undermines local democratically accountable organisations.

UNISON Scotland broadly welcomes the real term increase in the Scottish Executive budget including the additional resources set out by the Chancellor in the UK Government's spending review. However, we need to recognise that the damage to Scotland's public services from years of underfunding will take significant resources over and above those available in these spending plans.

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Health

UNISON welcomes the significant real term increase in health spending as a modest start in addressing the urgent need to rebuild the NHS in Scotland. However, due to the absence of detailed figures it is unclear how much of these additional resources will go into in Hospital and Community Health Services, which as all the recent indicators show are under severe pressure.

Most of the additional resources appear to be allocated to specific initiatives which means that Trusts and Health Boards are not funded to deal with financial pressures outwith these targetted areas. For example the cost of pay awards (Junior Doctors pay in particular), the implementation of the Working Time Regulations and new drug costs have not been fully funded. This also has to be put in the context of the debt crisis which exist in many Trusts.

UNISON recognises the absence of proper accountability within the current structures and welcomes the recent announcement by the Health Minister on this issue as a first step towards rebuilding a truly Scottish health service. In the context of the present structures it is therefore understandable that the Minister wishes to ensure that new resources are allocated to agreed priorities. However, if the core service remains underfunded staff and patients will not see the additional resources benefiting their immediate environment and therefore the new funding announcements lose credibility. In addition repeated spending announcements do not assist credibility.

The drive for more efficient and effective services continues to be undermined by wasting resources
through the inefficient use of the Private Finance Initiative.

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Children and Education

UNISON Scotland welcomes the significant real term increase in mainly small centrally funded initiatives and services, recognising that the bulk of spending in this area is in the Local Government and Health budgets.

Whilst we support many of these initiatives, we remain concerned that significant real term budget increases are being built into directly controlled budgets primarily at the expense of local government. Schools are another area where resources are being wasted through the use of PFI despite the attempts by several local authorities to hide the true cost from the public..

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Enterprise and Life Long Learning

The significant increase in Higher and Further education spending is welcomed, rectifying last year's real term cut in HE spending, although the lack of detail makes it unclear how much of this is going to fund student support.

We were critical of the proposed cuts in the funding of the Careers Service in the Stage 1 proposals. The new proposals with their additional resources for this important service is therefore very welcome.

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Communities

We note the further increase in resources allocated to Community Ownership (was New Housing Partnerships) again presumably at the expense of other local government funding. A change of name will not make this inefficient use of resources any more acceptable.

UNISON welcomes further increased spending under the Warm Deal and the recently announced central heating and insulation scheme. This is a welcome move towards a comprehensive strategy to address fuel poverty as recommended in the UNISON supported Keeping Scotland Warm strategy.

The further increase in Social Inclusion Funding is also welcome although greater detail is needed. However, again we are concerned that this funding is at the expenses of direct local government funding. We were critical of the proposed reduction in funding for the voluntary sector and equalities and therefore welcome the revised budget and the increased resources.

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Environment

UNISON Scotland does not support the further real term cuts in revenue support to Scottish Water Authorities. These cuts are a partial explanation for the higher than necessary increase in water charges along with the wasteful use of PFI. It is entirely unclear how the Executive can claim "We have made additional resources available …”. As we indicated in our response to Managing Change in the Water Industry there is an urgent need to cancel debt and provide a level playing field in the Scottish water industry.

We welcome the increased Environmental Protection budget which is a significant improvement on the Stage 1 proposals. However, much of these resources will be allocated to new responsibilities given to SEPA (including the Flood Warning System) and has to be seen in the context of inadequate funding over recent years. The proposed standstill budget for 2002-04 will make it very difficult for SEPA to meet these new demands and we will wish to revisit this issue next year.

(UNISON Scotland Water Industry Links Page)

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Transport

We note the significant real term increase in funding for motorways and trunk roads and remain to be convinced that this is the best use of resources in this budget. We are particularly concerned over the further cut in grant to local authorities and the projected further cuts up to 2003-04. Switching resources from rail to road does not accord with our understanding of the Scottish Executive's transport policy. The text makes several references to targets in this area of transport policy. However, the usual absence of financial data does not give us confidence that these targets will be supported financially.

The lack of detail also makes it difficult to assess other areas of transport including the routing of DETR funding for British Waterways (Scotland) through the Scottish Executive.

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European Funds

The absence of any detail in this section makes it difficult to assess the impact these funds have on Scotland's public services and in particular how they impact on other budget heads. This lack of transparency only fuels suspicion that Scotland is not getting full value from this funding system.

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Local Government

UNISON Scotland gives a qualified welcome to the real term increase in local authority revenue expenditure and the claimed provision for general increases in pay and prices which have not been covered in recent years. Recognising that there remains the issue of the distribution formula to be resolved.

However, this increase has to be seen in the context of major cuts since reorganisation in 1996-97. Local governments share of the Scottish Block grant has declined from 40% to 36% over this period resulting in some 13,000 job losses. Elements of the additional funding have been hypothecated and local authorities face additional financial commitments over and above inflation e.g McCrone.

Whilst the recognition of the need to fund pay for future years is welcome it does nothing to address the current pay difficulties which reflect many years of underfunding. In addition there is no indication of the assumptions upon which this funding is based.

UNISON Scotland believes that there is an urgent need to review local government finance. In particular the allocation of business rate revenue discriminates against urban areas which generate most revenue but do not see an equitable share of resources. For example, Glasgow collects £264m in business rates yet only receives £201m back under the current arrangements. Whilst UNISON welcomes many aspects of the recent announcements on local government finance including the abolition of expenditure guidelines and the three year grant settlement, the review should consider further relaxation in the controls placed on local authorities.

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Justice

After last year's significant cuts a real term increase in expenditure is welcome. However, as with other budgets the absence of detail makes it difficult to assess the benefits to particular services.

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CONCLUSION

UNISON Scotland broadly welcomes the real term increase in expenditure across most budget headings. We also welcome the fact that this plan shows some signs that the Executive has listened to the representations made by UNISON and others. However, broad budget headings disguise very real problems with a number of services which are unlikely to be fully addressed within these spending plans.

The most disappointing aspect of the plans is yet again in the presentation. Heavy on spin and short on detail is the overwhelming response of UNISON members when they commented on these plans. As we indicated last year, the very real achievements of the Scottish Executive are at risk of being lost under a tide of cynicism caused by poor and in some cases misleading presentation. All that is required in this process is the publication of the full budget, presented in a consistent format. We strongly urge that approach on the Scottish Executive.

 

Dave Watson
UNISON Scotland
Public Finances Policy Pool
November 2000

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