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The truths they don't want you to read....

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nothing costs anything

There is a strange and inconsistent approach to the public finances by the SNP Government, and I don't think that the inconsistency does a lot to advance the quality of political discussion ahead of the election.

That being said, they are also politically astute, which is probably the reason for them being made.

Freezing Council Tax is highly astute as almost no-one ever likes paying more taxes, but all it does is to reduce the flexibility and options available to local councils, making them dependent upon central Government.  The Comhairle raises under 8% of it's income from Council Tax and this percentage is falling.  The end result is that the Council is being more and more 'guided' on how to spend, through the Concordat and through 'special funding' being made available for pet projects.  A prime example of this was the funding for Perceval Square which appeared at the last moment and had to be designed, tendered, accepted and commenced within weeks, because some spare funding was identified for a pet concept.  That money could, for instance, have been used to provide an improved home care service had it not been earmarked.

Labour are going into the election on the back foot (apparently) by planning to increase Council Tax.

However, this week I saw our revised office rates bill.  Nominally it is c£2,000, but with the small business discount it comes to zero.  Where is my incentive as a businessman to ensure that the Council spends the money wisely?  Where is the fairness and equality in it all?  Much as I might grudge it, I think that a realistic level of local taxation improves the responsiveness of the public to Council services and helps keep the public aware of what there money is being used for.

Then the other side of the reality gap:
The number of senior NHS bosses in Scotland will be cut by a quarter in the next four years, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
She said the move would help fund policies such as SNP plans to abolish prescription charges by next April.
Abolishing prescription charges might sound egalitarian, but it actually removes any constraint on frivolous medical demands and increases the likelihood of the issue of spurious prescriptions being issued and the wasting of medication.  I forecast pressure on the Health Board drugs bill as a consequence.

But the other half of the vote-winning formula is the slashing of NHS management - with the absolute and utter meaningless and unenforceable assurance that it won't affect direct health care - by 25% over 4 years.  Great idea, but utterly unachievable whilst targets have to be reported, health initiatives delivered and enhanced fiscal control being demanded by the Government.  It's not even like natural wastage will come close to helping that target being hit. 

Firstly, the natural wastage won't happen in the right places.  Secondly, just who is going to leave to take another job, when public sector job insecurity is so low?  The answers to both of these mitigate against any policy success, but a very good political slogan.

I'm not suggesting that the public sector doesn't need change, but with the Government demanding huge and unachievable change, I forecast a huge bounty for the consultants helping the NHS design change programmes, and serious impacts on service delivery, if - and post-election who is going to say that promises will be kept by a minority Government - the proposals are implemented.

Still it all makes for nice election leaflets and catchy slogans.  Unless you work in the NHS.


Anonymous said...

Senior council source has told me that services are to be cut so as to save jobs. They dont want to make anyone redundant. How blinkered are these folk?

Anonymous said...


How can you cut services and NOT impact on jobs ? (Other than through natural wastage - which may or may not occur in the places you want it to.)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:53
Answer to your question. About as blinkered and idiotic as you are. If you left unchallenged a view that services and jobs are two unrelated areas of expenditure, why are you commenting on it here rather than challenging your 'source'? What did you say to your 'senior council source'? Where was this confidence revealed? It sounds like another sad bar-room exchange from which you really shouldn't draw all these wider conclusions.