27 January 2005

S2M-2291 Budget (Scotland) (No 2) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 27 January 2005

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

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Budget (Scotland) (No 2) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): We come now to a debate on motion S2M-2291, in the name of Tom McCabe, that the general principles of the Budget (Scotland) (No 2) Bill be agreed.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I think that the discourtesy that has been displayed today was not against Jim Mather—his back is broad—but against the ambassador from Luxembourg, whom we saw representing that independent nation of a small and successful kind in the distinguished guests gallery this morning.

I return to a recurring theme when I speak in finance debates—the lack of conformity to good accounting principles in how we lay things out. As long ago as the 13th century, the Florentine bankers developed a system of double-entry bookkeeping in which one could see the sources and application of money. Ironically, to use that system and record effectively, they had to use not the Roman number system but the Arabic one, which had the number zero in it, although that was forbidden by the city authorities. The word for zero in Arabic is "sifr", from which we get today's word "cipher", and it was considered that using that system concealed the truth. Encipherment sometimes seems to be the way in which our accounts are dealt with.

I was grateful to Jeremy Purvis for bringing up pensions. As I look through the accruals in the bill—of which I shall say more—I note that there is very little in the way of accruals, or income. Let us look at the accruals that derive from superannuation. The figure for teachers is £1.156 billion, which immediately transfers to expenditure on pensions. The whole way in which we are managing pensions is going to bite and bite hard. I do not say that we will be able to solve that problem in one, two or three years; it is a long-term problem that we must engage with. That applies equally to 11 Downing Street as it does to people here.

In the brief time that is available to me, I will talk about accruals. Looking at the figures for the Scottish Executive Development Department, I see that we are going to get a total of £100 of income from 10 line items, including "Receipts from Energy Action Grant Agency" and "Fees for functions carried out by the Scottish Building Standards Agency". That is not a great deal. We also see, on page 14 of the bill, that the Scottish Police College superannuation funds the expenditure of the Scottish Police College and that the Scottish Legal Aid Board superannuation funds the expenditure of the Scottish Legal Aid Board. On page 17, we see that the superannuation contributions for teachers and the national health service turn into expenditure on teachers and the NHS.

Audit Scotland is going to generate £100 of income from the sale of information technology equipment. If it can sell anything worthwhile for that amount, I would love to have it as well. The miscellaneous income for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body also totals £100. The Food Standards Agency's income from its charges, veterinary services and inspections is only £100. It is remarkable how, in focusing only on expenditure, we appear not to be dealing in any sensible way with income.

Occasionally, when we see a proper reference to income—such as the £17 million in the budget for tourism, culture and sport—we also see a footnote saying, "Income to be surrendered." Frankly, until we see income and expenditure, we will not be able to see what is going on. By the same token, it is time that we expressed our budget with assets and liabilities—especially the increasing, worrying, devastating, crippling private finance initiative liabilities.


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