Last month, following the publication of the Scottish Government’s annual accounts, which showed that, despite running a deficit of over £13 billion, Scottish spending on public services is still £1,437 per head higher than the UK average, I questioned whether Scottish taxpayers were getting value for their money.
The evidence, as I said then, suggests not: educational standards are declining, teacher numbers have fallen, NHS targets are not being met, and local services are under pressure. So, more money being spent, but crucial public services declining. It was a bit of a puzzle. But now that puzzle has been solved.
New research published earlier this week has revealed that, while many benefit from more money spent per head than in England, that money is not being spent in the areas that need it the most. And nor is it being spent on areas that the have consistently identified as your priorities, such as health and education.
Contrary to what they have consistently claimed, the SNP government is not investing in our NHS to anywhere near the extent required. Indeed, had health spending risen in tandem with overall Scottish government expenditure, it would now be £1bn a year higher than it is today. Historically, Scotland has spent significantly more on health than England; however, over the last ten years of SNP Government, that gap has disappeared.
The SNP are not prioritising our precious NHS – they’re shortchanging it. This has led to services for patients declining with doctors, nurses and staff being asked to do much more for less. This has got nothing to do with the financial crash, austerity, or anything else. It is the simple and deliberate result of SNP government policy to priortise spending in other areas. Who would have thought that our Scottish Parliament would spend less of the money available on the NHS than even a Conservative England!
In education we see a similar story. The SNP government said that education would be their top priority. These figures suggest otherwise. In fact, spending on schools in Scotland has slipped over the past decade, and is now no higher than it is in England. That is despite overall devolved spending being around 25 per cent higher.
Nicola Sturgeon has consistently identified education as her personal priority. However, after ten years of her government, school budgets are at breaking point. This is the sole responsibility of the SNP and the First Minister. It is the result of their choices, nobody else’s.
And we see that in Edinburgh. Constituents contact me every day with stories of where public services are letting them down – months rather than weeks for operations, no places available at local schools, GP appointments in short supply, diluted local policing and the morale of those who work hard in our public services being at an all time low.
Last month, I said that the real story of the Scottish Government’s annual accounts is that Scotland’s finances have been mismanaged by the SNP. This report proves that point.
The SNP asked to be judged on their record. After ten years, their record is clear: less money for our schools, less money for our hospitals, and the additional resources that Scotland enjoys being directed to other areas.
The Scottish Parliament is one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world. It means we can make different choices for our public services. It’s a shame that those vast powers and resources are not being used to do just that.
Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South