The Scottish Government has been reduced to “firefighting” across the public finances and needs to set out reforms for the longer term, a Holyrood committee has warned.
In their report on the Scottish budget, MSPs criticised ministers for not spelling out overdue reforms or explaining how they would meet pay and staff cutting targets.
The Finance Committee also complained about the Government’s failure to specify how much it was spending on its flagship National Care Service (NCS) in 2023/24.
The committee said it was “difficult to determine” the amount as it had been lumped in with around £1billion of other health and care spending.
“Given this is a flagship policy with considerable costs attached”, the Government should extrapolate out the costs to allow the spending to be “identified and tracked”, it said.
The NCS, which Nicola Sturgeon has called the biggest public service shake-up since the creation of the NHS in 1948, is supposed to be running by 2026.
However there has been growing criticism about vague plans and costs, and it was reported last year that its funding had been dramatically scaled back and slowed down.
The committee, which has a majority of SNP and Green members, said Scotland’s public finances were under “considerable strain” due to high inflation, a cost-of-living crisis and demands for improved public sector pay deals.
But it said ministers could be doing more, and acting with greater clarity and transparency.
It was “not convinced that the Scottish Government is carrying out enough strategic long-term financial planning to ensure future fiscal sustainability, including in relation to how it meets its public service reform and social security commitments”.
It said the Government should focus on striking the right balance between dealing with immediate financial pressures and addressing longer-term challenges.
It demanded greater Government clarity on delivering public service reforms, and how ministers will deliver on plan to reduce overall staff headcount to pre-pandemic levels.
“There is no public sector pay policy for 2023/24, while the expected plans for public service reform have disappointingly not materialised, presenting difficulties for public bodies in their long-term financial planning,” it said.
SNP committee convener Kenneth Gibson said: “The Committee wants to see more strategic long-term financial planning from the Scottish Government to ensure future fiscal sustainability. This includes how it will meet its public service reform and social security commitments.
“We also ask in our report, from where in the public sector reductions in headcount to pre-pandemic levels will be made, and to what timescales. Clarity and transparency around these issues are crucial, during what is an uncertain time for the public sector.
“It is clear from our scrutiny of the Scottish Budget 2023-24 that the Scottish Government is firefighting on a number of fronts.”
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Focusing on the lack of detail on the NCS, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “This scathing report lays bare the chaos at the heart of these botched SNP plans.
“Scotland’s care services are crying out for change – but these unpopular, unworkable and uncosted plans aren’t what we need.
“This clueless SNP government is now scrambling to rewrite costings, but they are still making it up as they go along.
“This is an extraordinary waste of time and money, all of which should be focused on improving pay, conditions and services in the sector right now.”
#Scottish #ministers #firefighting #public #finances #MSPs #warn
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