We spent some time today looking at the key challenges for UNISON members arising from the Scottish Parliament election result. The key concern remains finance.
The Scottish budget is already facing a cumulative loss, in real terms, of £39bn over the 15 year period before we return to 2009 spending levels. The CPPR analysis of the SNP manifesto shows additional commitments totalling over £1bn in the next four years. This includes the growing cost of the planned 5 year Council Tax freeze that according to Professor David Bell is likely to cost £535m. That is a £250m shortfall on the SNP manifesto estimate. Put another way by the CPPR, the Council tax freeze will cost 3,300 public sector jobs.
These commitments are apparently to be financed by further ‘efficiency’ savings. In addition, in common with the other political parties, they largely ignore the additional demand pressures (demographic change, recession etc) that will add to the pressures on the Scottish budget. NESTA estimates that additional demands in health, social care and justice alone will amount to more than £27bn over the same time period.
The attraction of the efficiency savings approach is that the responsibility for making cuts fall on delivery bodies (councils, health boards etc) where our members are largely employed. The CPPR report sums this up well:
“At present it looks like whoever forms the next Scottish Government will be passing on much of the accountability and responsibility for making these decisions to other bodies. This would appear to be in the hope that, by avoiding taking the lead in such unpleasant deeds, national politicians will also avoid taking the blame.”
Capital funding shortfalls are likely to be a growing concern and The Scottish Futures Trust will drive forward with PFI schemes including the Hub Initiative and NPDT model. This will add to the growing burden of PFI costs.
The main ‘efficiency’ saving that contributes to plugging the financial gap set out above has been the public service pay freeze. This has been coupled with attacks on terms and conditions in several UNISON service groups. It is likely that pay restraint will continue to be a feature of the Scottish Government’s ‘efficiency’ agenda, possibly coupled with their commitment on no compulsory redundancies, in those services they have direct control over. The CPPR estimates that public service workers who retain their jobs are likely to suffer a 6-12% reduction in the spending power of their pay up to 2014-15.
These financial issues would be similar whoever won the election. All the more reason for a greater focus than we got in the election on the alternatives. There is a better way than simply implementing the Con-Dem cuts.