Published today my more detailed briefing and commentary on the Scottish Government's spending plans and draft budget for 2011-12.
Having now worked my way through all 214 pages of the plan and most of the additional documents, my conclusions remain pretty much as I set out on the day. A poor hand dealt by the UK Government - but some poor choices made by John Swinney.
The local government settlement is without doubt the worst piece of politics. We loudly applauded the Scottish Government for reducing ring fencing. However, they have now effectively returned to that approach and taken away any vestige of respect for local democracy. All because they think the Council Tax freeze is a political winner next year. Well no one likes to pay tax, but people understand that local services have to be paid for. This particular tax cut is also fundamentally unfair, as it favours the wealthiest home owners at the expense of the rest, who are paying increased charges for services.
Then we have the wasteful expenditure. Police officer numbers maintained on paper, but in practice they will be pushing a desk, not patrolling our streets. Teachers doing the job of sacked classroom assistants and a new bonanza for management consultants. Then we have the return of PFI. The most expensive form of borrowing possible and another cash cow for the banks who got us into this mess.
As expected there were some nasty surprises in the detail. A number of public bodies have pretty substantial cuts, well above the average, with no justification in the text. SEPA and Skills Development Scotland to name just two. Plenty of rhetoric about the low carbon economy, yet the energy budget gets a big cut.
None of this should distract from the fact that the UK Con-Dem coalition are cutting spending too far, too fast, at a time when economic recovery remains fragile. However, within these constraints, the Scottish Government has made some poor decisions in this draft budget.