23 December 2004

S2M-2179 Budget Process 2005-06

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 23 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

Budget Process 2005-06

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2179, in the name of Des McNulty, on the 8th report in 2004 of the Finance Committee, "Report on Stage 2 of the 2005-06 Budget Process".


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will play the grumpy old man to Wendy Alexander's spirit of Christmas. After all, when I were a lad, Christmas was a working day. My general practitioner father's sole concession to Christmas was that he held no evening surgery on Christmas day.

In answer to Wendy Alexander's accusation that the SNP has not cared about cutting costs, I have already given one example, but I will give two more, since she suggested that my first example was the only one. First, earlier this year, I opposed the blanket increase in planning fees that were to be implemented by local authorities because, if we manage the pennies, we will look after the pounds. Secondly, as far back as when Richard Simpson was a minister, I opposed the Scottish statutory instrument that increased the fees for licensing bingo halls and casinos. Now, that is something to be cheerful about. Therefore, I am no Johnny-come-lately to the cost-cutting agenda; I have been promoting that agenda since I came to the Parliament. However, where is Wendy Alexander's zero-sum budgeting today?

Mr Monteith rose—

Stewart Stevenson: Oh, come on. Earlier, Brian Monteith claimed:

"I am not proposing anything today".

Is he about to start doing so?

Mr Monteith: No, I am not about to start proposing anything. I simply want to ask Stewart Stevenson whether he can explain how a council not increasing its planning charges would be an efficiency gain. Would that not simply be a reduction in the revenue that the council receives?

Stewart Stevenson: I suggest that Brian Monteith read the Official Report of the relevant committee meeting to see the interesting response that I received from the minister. I argued that, given that we had passed a power of well-being to councils, we should not tell them what to charge for planning applications but allow them to set the charges for themselves. In that way, the efficient councils would deal with such applications more cheaply and efficiently, whereas the inefficient ones would lose by charging more. The response from the then Deputy Minister for Communities, Mary Mulligan, was that we cannot have councils competing with each other. The SNP stands for a competitive Scotland that can compete with its neighbours. That is what we will always stand for.

As one who spent his working life in business, I sometimes feel that I entered something of a time warp in coming to Parliament. The way in which we deal with our numbers here is at least—to be generous—a decade behind business practices when I retired five years ago. Accountability is one example. I remember going to the Bank of Scotland's board to get some £25 million for a project. At the end of the board's discussion—which did not last long, as people had been briefed—the chairman said, "Stewart, can you deliver?" I was required to say the one important word: "Yes." That meant that, notwithstanding the fact that I am a computery person who was introducing a computer project, I had to achieve the savings in the operational parts of the bank that would justify the expenditure on the computer system. The boundaries between departments were of no relevance to whether I was judged a success or failure.

One difficulty that I find in what we do in government is that while I can see the political accountability, I cannot see the operational accountability. Even ministers tell me privately that they have difficulties in getting civil servants to say, "I personally carry the responsibility for implementing your plan, minister, and I will be judged on my success or failure." We will move forward when there is accountability not just of ministers, but of civil servants.

There is something else missing from the way in which we examine our numbers: assets and liabilities. It is all very well having a statement that indicates the revenue picture year on year—indeed, for years into the future—but if we do not see the assets and liabilities we cannot make a judgment on whether we are sweating our public assets. One or two of the accounts deal honestly with some of those issues. I am not often in the position of praising the Scottish Prison Service, but the service was at least honest in including a contingent liability in its accounts for the issue of slopping out and certain court cases to which I will not refer directly. However, we do not see much more of that.

Another issue is long-term planning. I have asked parliamentary questions about how many dentists we will need in 10 years' time, but the Executive does not know. If we do not know what the world in the public services will look like in 10 years, how the heck will we get there? It takes 10 years to persuade someone to go through all the necessary training and to come out as a dentist. That is only one example.

We can manage the pennies in committees and the Parliament. When we do so, we manage the pounds. I have made a start as an individual member; other colleagues have done the same. In the coming years, we will challenge at every opportunity when the Executive is not getting value for money for the public pursue. We cannot rely on members from other parties to do that, as they have no suggestions. Only the SNP will stand up for the interests of Scotland and Scotland's people.


Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP