The Chancellor’s argument for cuts fell apart yesterday. He spent a big part of his Budget crowing about how much better the country’s accounts now look. He even boasted about the budget soon being in surplus. But he still wants to cut.
Despite admitting there is room for spending to protect schools and hospitals, we face the same cuts after the Budget as we did before the Budget. And we are not talking about trimming or cutting out waste. He planned a massive £30 billion of cuts before the Budget and he is still planning the same unfair, unnecessary £30bn of cuts now.
Sadly, that is the same £30bn of unfair cuts that Labour signed up to a few weeks back when they voted for them in the House of Commons.
What that means for Scotland is another £12bn of cumulative cuts in real terms over the next four years.
George Osborne had a real opportunity yesterday. Instead he turned his back on investment in public services. He turned his back on our schools, hospitals and police.
No-one doubts that action is needed on the massive debts run up by Westminster, but George Osborne is planning on running a surplus of billions of pounds while our public services cry out for help. The scale of his cuts goes far beyond anything required.
The First Minister has outlined a sustainable, credible alternative and has published the figures to back it up. This alternative – which the Chancellor chose to ignore – would still see the deficit coming down every year. And it would see debt falling too.
By striking a fair balance, we can invest to protect our public services, freeing up to an additional £180bn in spending across the UK.
That’s around £14bn for Scotland’s schools, hospitals, roads and hard pressed public services.
The cuts are not just hitting public services. They are also hitting the economy. By investing we could boost the economy, support jobs and get Scotland growing faster. More people in work means more people paying tax, helping the public finances. The Chancellor’s plan fails to do any of this.
In his last Budget before the election, the Chancellor should have struck a fair balance, boosting economic growth and tackling inequality. Instead he has chosen – indeed boasted – of cuts far beyond what is needed. That tells you everything you need to know about the values and priorities of this Chancellor.
John Swinney is Deputy First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy