LAST week the Scottish Government unveiled its Budget.
With the cost-of-living crisis biting hard, it was the most important fiscal event the Scottish Parliament has seen in its 23-year lifespan.
Families and businesses across the country were hoping John Swinney would channel his inner Father Christmas but rather than a man bearing gifts, they were greeted by Ebenezer Scrooge counting his pennies.
It may have been the most important Budget in the lifetime of the Parliament, but it will go down as one of the most disappointing.
There was nothing for public sector workers, many of whom are continuing to take industrial action after a decade of wage suppression; nothing for businesses staring down the barrel of a gun as footfall drops and disposable income shrinks; and nothing for hard pressed public services crying out for investment and a commitment to long term support.
Instead, we were treated to a masterclass in spin that would have made Malcolm Tucker proud, and it didn’t take long before the apparently astronomic funding increases for public services were debunked.
The additional £550 million for local authorities was heralded by the Government as transformational. In reality, it amounted to a mere £71m increase when current Scottish Government spending commitments are included.
In short, nowhere near the £1 billion that Scotland’s councils say is needed for them just to stand still and a whopping 4.9% decrease in funding when inflation is taken into account.
It has resulted in council chiefs warning that “it is inevitable that current spending plans will inevitably lead to job losses” with one analysis projecting that up to 9700 jobs could be lost from local authorities across the country.
Given many services from education to social care and cleansing are provided by our councils, the impact this will have on our local communities cannot be underestimated.
For months, Labour have been urging the Government to use the extensive taxation powers at its disposal to fund public services and to increase the pay of public sector workers. After all, we are in a cost-of-living crisis, and it is only fair that those with the broadest shoulders bear the heaviest burden.
There was some progress on taxation, including the lowering of the threshold at which the country’s highest earners enter the top tax band. Scottish Labour called for it to be reduced from £150,000 per year to £120,000; a call heeded, in part, by the Government.
Ironically, it appears that any increased revenues won’t be reinvested in public services. Instead, thousands of Scots will pay more while receiving less.
So, will it be spent on a pay uplift for public sector workers? It would appear not.
To quote Strathclyde University’s Fraser of Allander Institute: “The key thing we were all looking out for was the announcement on public sector pay – and we are still looking.”
And it might have to continue looking for a while as John Swinney has indicated that he won’t be bringing forward or publishing formal guidelines for public sector pay in the coming year. In other words, if you work in the public sector, you will just need to suck it up for the foreseeable future.
It is a policy that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tory manifesto and follows a trend in Scottish politics which has seen the public sector hollowed out since 2007.
The landscape is bleak, of that there is no doubt. At a time when Government should be doing everything in its power to protect the most vulnerable, it is sadly being left to volunteers and charities across the city to fill the void and ensure that as many of our fellow Glaswegians as possible can enjoy Christmas.
It is a mission that has been taken up by excellent representatives like councillor Audrey Dempsey who represents Springburn and Robroyston. In the face of increasing hardship in her community and seeing the continuing withdrawal of state services, she set up the Glasgow’s No 1 Baby and Family Support Service charity, which is currently running a toy drive to ensure that every single child in need has a present to open on Christmas Day.
However even these charitable efforts are being pushed to the limit by the scale of the need in Glasgow, with more than 2000 requests for support over the last couple of months.
Shockingly, almost half of these requests have come from people who are employed, including those in public sector jobs within the NHS and schools, but due to the cost-of-living crisis are facing the devastating realisation that they simply can’t afford to give their children the Christmas they deserve.
The commitment of local champions like Audrey to their communities is unrivalled and it’s a testament to their character that when they see need they don’t just complain about it. Instead, they put their words into action.
While that may be the case, it should never be left to volunteers to be the last bastion of defence against continued austerity and falling living standards.
It appears governments at all levels are shamefully content to manage decline rather than pursuing policies that will improve our national prosperity and ensure our vast wealth is distributed fairly.
Only then can we finally remove the shame from need and build a society where everyone has enough money in their pockets to live their lives with a basic standard of dignity.
It is something we can certainly hope for in 2023, but sadly it is more in hope than expectation.
My column can be found on the Glasgow Times website here: Even Scrooge saw the error of his ways...Will John Swinney? | Glasgow Times