Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Scottish Government – September 2011 Spending Review

Today John Swinney MSP made a statement in Holyrood on the Scottish Government’s Spending Review.

Now I’m not a financial expert and it is far too much detail to take in straight away, so here is my first gut reaction.

What I think is interesting

In his statement Mr Swinney also talked about how bold he wanted to be in terms of preventative spending. In 2011 the General Assembly urged the Government to consider the opportunities created for young people by adopting a preventative spending model when setting education budgets. Support for Family Nurse Partnerships and commitment to a Reducing Reoffending Change Fund are exciting developments.

It is also important to recognise the increase in the Scottish Living Wage to £7.20 per hour. The Church of Scotland supports the Living Wage as one way to help tackle in-work poverty.

The aspiration of the Government to care for the earth, through prioritising a move towards a low carbon economy, is to be welcomed. More investment in renewable energy so we can play our part in global efforts to properly steward resources is also welcome.

The announcement of £3million for new work to tackle sectarianism is also an important way the Government can enhance and complement the work that we are doing in Churches and communities across Scotland.

Issues of fuel poverty have hit the headlines recently and we are pleased to see that the Government has responded to this growing need with several programmes intended to tackle fuel poverty. It is to be hoped that the Government will take action to ensure that these funds are accessible to people in the private rented sector.

What I am sorry not to see in there

There seems to me no substantive discussion of poverty. I sincerely hope that the omission of strategies and initiatives specifically to tackle poverty are not a sign that the Government is abandoning its commitments to work to help those in our society in greatest need.

Poverty is a real problem for a huge proportion of people in Scotland, yet this crucial statement about the future direction of Government funding for the next three years does not address it seriously as a problem.

By having a ‘relentless focus on economic growth’ (their words) is the Government suggesting that they won’t be focusing on anti-poverty work?

This looks as though the Scottish Government is avoiding some of the difficult questions of inequality and the distribution of wealth in Scotland today. It is not enough simply to create wealth through economic growth and be blind to the consequences. We have to be far more sensitive to how wealth is distributed and the destructive impact greater wealth can have on communities and the environment.

For instance, talking about growing Scotland’s transport infrastructure through supporting a new Forth bridge and the Aberdeen bypass does little to tackle the growing carbon emissions from the transport sector.

In 2010 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland called on the Government to recognise the destructive impact of inequality on the wellbeing of all, the disproportionate impact of cuts in services on the poorest, and therefore to poverty proof all budget decisions.

The focus of budgets and spending reviews should not just be a list of financial announcements but demonstrating a deep understanding that the economy is there to serve society, and not the other way around.


  1. Thanks for the useful overview, balanced, but firmly emphasizing the continuing problem of inequality, and the importance of well-being as an outcome of government actions.

  2. Following on from a question raised at this year's General Assembly whilst discussing the Social Care Council, are all staff employed by the Church of Scotland paid at least the scottish living wage? If not why not?


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