Social  housing budget cut is a mistake - Ewan Aitken

​​There was a time when the only piece of political theatre prior to a UK Government budget was when the Chancellor held up their red box for the cameras, right before they left to go to the Westminster Parliament to reveal its contents.
Ewan Aitken, CEO Cyrenians ScotlandEwan Aitken, CEO Cyrenians Scotland
Ewan Aitken, CEO Cyrenians Scotland

Nowadays, with headline announcements hinted at in the run up to the budget it seems like Parliament is the last place to know the Chancellor’s plans, despite claims of its sovereignty.

The Scottish Government does not do a similar pre-budget photo opportunity with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance but, like the UK Government, often lets slip much of its contents ahead of time, rendering the actual budget speech a bit of a formality.

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They do, however, get a second chance after the UK announcement, thanks to what’s called the “Barnett consequentials”. This is a formula that ensures a share of additional public funding - allocated only to England - is provided fairly to the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This spring, it means the Scottish Government have a further £300m of funding to make decisions with.

Finance secretary Shona RobisonFinance secretary Shona Robison
Finance secretary Shona Robison

The Scottish Government may say, with some degree of justification, that even with this extra cash the Scottish grant is lower than it’s ever been, allowing for inflation. They may also say, with even greater justification, this is largely because of how badly the economy is performing thanks to Westminster’s decisions. But the Scottish Government are elected to make decisions about the money they have, not just complain about the money they wish they had.

The total income for the Scottish Government is around £60bn - a fair wedge of cash to work with.

And yet they chose to cut spending on building social houses by 26 per cent in the face of a housing crisis while funding a council tax freeze which helps the rich, not the poor.

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Warm, safe, affordable housing is the bedrock of a stable, society and a strong economy. The Scottish Government will claim this money is revenue not capital but there are ways in which it could be used to plug that gap if they are willing to be creative and brave. They have a second chance to be wise with our money, I hope they use it well.

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