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Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Kay Sillars k.sillars@unison.co.uk - For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Scottish Government 'must do better' on preventative spending

The Scottish Parliament Finance Committee today warned that nothing like enough is being done in Scotland on preventative spending.

It is widely agreed that in key areas of public services the focus needs to shift from tackling symptoms of disadvantage and inequality to addressing root causes, with what the Committee described as a “decisive shift to prevention.”

However, today’s report from the Committee on the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2015-16 makes clear that “there is little evidence of the essential shift in resources taking place to support a preventative approach.”

This is damning, but UNISON welcomes the Committee recognising the reality of the situation.

As the report shows, radical changes in shifting resources to prevention are hampered by the scale of the financial challenges facing public services.

We are urging politicians from all parties to act now to put fairness and tackling inequality at the heart of economic policy and to look at the vast amount of evidence in favour of this.

The Scottish Government announced in its Spending Review 2011 that a “decisive shift to preventative spending” would deliver a step change in the way public services are funded and delivered.

Yet, despite £500m of funding for three Change Funds aimed at supporting preventive approaches in early years, in reshaping care for older people (includes more support for people at home/in the community, key to reducing hospital admissions, tackling bed blocking and preventing/delaying ill health) and in reducing reoffending, the Finance Committee report says:

On Early Years: “...little evidence has been provided of any shift in the £2.7 billlion funding for early years services towards prevention and early intervention. Indeed, the  average 11.2% real terms cut to nursery school places between 2010-11 and 2012-13 and the wide variation in spending per place suggests the opposite.”

On Reshaping Care for Older People: “The Committee notes with concern the findings of Audit Scotland that there is little evidence of progress in moving money to community based services...recommends that each Integration Joint Board sets out a clear plan setting out how money will be moved to community based services.”

The report also warns that Community Planning Partnerships have spent too long focusing inward, with the Committee concerned about the lack of progress on the “decisive shift to prevention.”

It refers to evidence to the Local Government and Regeneration Committee from a number of councils that moves to a preventative approach are very difficult when faced with current budgetary pressures and the impact of the UK welfare reforms.

UNISON warned in our reports ‘Austerity Economics Don’t Add Up’ and ‘The Cuts Don’t Work’ that not only is austerity already damaging people’s lives and health, but the worst of the cuts are still to come.

While it is unclear exactly how they will hit in Scotland in the coming years, it is difficult to see how the necessary shift to prevention will be feasible in the face of what the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in its assessment of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement:

How do we get to this sunlit upland in which we have a budget surplus? Spending cuts on a colossal scale is how, taking total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the last war….it is surely incumbent on anyone set upon taking the size of the state to its smallest in many generations to tell us what that means. How will these cuts be implemented? What will local government, the defence force, the transport system look like in this world? Is this a fundamental redesigning of the role of the state?”

Austerity most definitely isn’t working. We need politicians with the political will to put in place better policies that deliver and that make the important changes such as the shift to preventative spending.

Yet the Finance Committee today also made clear that even on basic financial planning, on the Draft Budget 2015-16, Parliament is being asked to consider proposals without full knowledge of what money is available to spend.

As The Scotsman reported today, the Committee wants urgent action from  the Scottish and UK Governments to agree how much the block grant to Holyrood will be.

The two new taxes coming in from  April – the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and the Scottish Landfill Tax – will impact on the amount of funding from Westminster. The Committee said it is essential to know this before Parliament votes on the Budget in February.

To not have this sorted out by now is clearly a ridiculous state of affairs and both Governments ‘must do better’ to ensure MSPs have the necessary information in time.

The way MPs and MSPs can do better on protecting public services – which MSPs debate tomorrow – is to stand up for economic policies that deliver for everyone in society, instead of the current massive cuts that hit the most vulnerable hardest.

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