The Scottish Government announced their proposed budget on 9th Dec. This briefing outlines some of its key features as the impact on UNISON Scotland members based on currently available information. Further briefings will be produced as the Budget process continues.
The core block grant received by the Scottish Government for this budget was larger than any pre-pandemic budget ( 8% higher in real terms than 2019/20) but lower than in either of the past two years. They, therefore, have more money to spend but the picture is complicated as there are still ongoing Covid challenges to be met. This was “a budget of choices” as Kate Forbes put it. The choice was made to prioritise Scottish Government’s favoured policies and initiatives, where spending increases, sometimes considerably. Other services received either standstill funding, or real terms – or in the case of local government actual – cuts in cash available. Improving public service pay does not seem a priority. Due to their deal with the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Government does not have to negotiate with other parties to ensure the budget will pass.
Income tax rates and bands are unchanged. The Scottish Government imposed Council Tax freeze is lifted. Given councils are facing massive shortfalls (see below) increases are likely..
Scottish Government pay policy applies directly to members in NDPB’s but will also provide the backdrop to other negotiations. The proposal is for a £10.50ph minimum wage rate. Other increases are to be lump sums rather than %ages: £775 for those earning up to £25k. £700 for those between £25-£40k. £500 for those on £40k+. This is below inflation for the bulk of UNISON members. RPI is currently at 3.3%) on the year – and OBR prediction is for inflation to reach 4.4% next year. Work towards a 35hr week is to continue but no targets are set or finance promised
The local Government faces an almost 9% cut in revenue budget which will make service delivery challenges. The Scottish Government argue that this is compensated for by the money councils get to carry out Scottish Govt policies from other budgets eg education and social care. Cosla disagrees estimating this budget means a £264m (2.5%) cut, rather than the significant increase needed following years of poor settlements. Councils have a free hand to raise Council Tax for the first time since 2008/9 – to replace lost revenue funding would though involve eye-watering increases.
Health Board spending goes above £14bn. Overall this is a 5.6% increase with most territorial boards getting ~4.5%, with the ambulance service (7.8%) and national waiting times centre (11.8%) doing better). Many services receive a flat rate or no increases but there are big increases in social care and mental health improvement. Some training budgets are increased significantly.
Further and Higher Education
There is a below-inflation increase in HE resource funding of 2.7%. Specific priorities & projects (eg counselling, climate action) receive earmarked funding. Resource funding for Further Education remains at this year’s level. Scot Gov estimates that other sources of funding will deliver £190m. There is a doubling to ~£70m in capital expenditure budget for colleges. The headline budget for Skills Development Scotland declines by £5.8m claim is that this is compensated for by funding presented through programmes attached to the Finance and Economy portfolio.
Police and Fire
Scottish Police Authority budget increases by 3.2% which the Scottish Government claims will involve a real-terms resource increase. The police budget includes £29m for reform. SFRS budget increases by 3.1%. £73.7m is allocated for funding the UK-wide Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) for the three Scottish Emergencies Services.
The Scottish Government continues to see economic recovery from covid as being business-led rather than driven by investment in services. emphasis is on infrastructure projects, with learning and skills policies tailored to fit. Community wealth-building ideas through an empowered public sector despite ministerial rhetoric, don’t feature much.
The difference in treatment between the government’s favoured initiatives and other services (and those who provide them) is clear favoured programmes get significant spending boosts, others get flat funding. Pay policy reflects this. More than ever local government is treated as being merely a delivery arm for Scottish Government policies.