Sunday, 15 August 2010

Public expenditure, public waste

On Friday at lunchtime, Dundee City Council sneaked out a press release about budget cuts and its proposed way forward ("Estimated savings of 40 million needed over three years"), together with a report that will go before the Council's Policy & Resources Committee a week tomorrow.

I say "sneaked out" because the timing of the release to the media was done in such a way that no opposition councillor could have possibly had the opportunity to read it before the inevitable calls from the media asking for a response. If the SNP administration is serious about working in a cross-party and consensual manner, it was hardly a flying start.

Furthermore, SNP councillor Willie Sawers, in that press release, says, "The financial squeeze imposed on us by the Westminster Government is unprecedented and the overall financial picture has worsened as the implications of UK budget cuts have become clearer."

And having had a swipe at the coalition government then goes on to say "In the best interest of the city, we would like to move forward from the old confrontational exchanges between parties." Mmmm ... perhaps not the best ever attempt at getting away from confrontational politics. Furthermore, someone should remind Cllr Sawers that the local government settlement is determined, not by the Westminster Government, but by his own SNP government in Edinburgh.

The lack of preparedness of the SNP government to properly manage a difficult financial situation is of concern.
Today in the press, COSLA rightly hints that the SNP government's less than even handed approach to cuts may make the local government position worse, and given the vital social care services provided to the elderly and vulnerable by local government, not subjecting NHS Boards to look at efficiency measures would be a big mistake.

Here's a few potential NHS efficiencies for a start :

* Cut out the so-called "merit awards" paid to some of the highest paid NHS consultants on top of their large salaries. My LibDem colleague in Angus, Sanjay Samani,
recently highlighted this issue with NHS Tayside.

* Cut down the NHS hospitality expenditure. Official figures obtained by the Labour Party earlier this month showed that
NHS hospitality costs in Scotland increased by almost 25% in the last three years, from £1 076 044 in 2007-08 to £1 332 501 in 2009-10. Almost £4m spent in the past three years and, as the Courier pointed out, a staggering £804 148 by NHS Tayside alone.

* Investigate fully and ensure no repetition of the scandal of NHS Education for Scotland
attending 21 conference in all parts of the world, including Durban, Instanbul and Sydney.

* Scrap the SNP policy of
free prescriptions for rich people.

Of course, the NHS in Scotland, is not the only service where the SNP government has failed to properly control expenditure. In various newspapers today,
including the Sunday Mail, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Tavish Scott MSP, highlights the disgrace of Scottish Enterprise's ballooning spending on hospitality. Scottish Enterprise spent £499 078 on hospitality in 2009/10, up from £437 940 in 2008/09. Last month, they spent thousands on hospitality at the Open Golf Tournament at St Andrews.

As Tavish says, "SNP ministers need to get a grip of quango spending. Scottish Enterprise have their priorities badly wrong."