There was, in my view, a number of shortcomings in the budget that were of such significance that I would not vote to support this year’s budget brought forward by the Deputy First Minster as I had done last year.
My view is that there is no evidence of any joined up government approach to a strategy aimed at tackling poverty, deprivation and inequality. Over the last year I have heard much said, both from the government and parliamentarians, about the scourge of poverty, deprivation and inequality that is so visible in many of our communities and yet there is no clear strategy, no set of clear outcomes to be achieved, and no direction to tackle these issues from this budget. There will be bits and pieces within each departmental budget but nothing joined up and no clear government direction or prioritisation to address inequality. I have to conclude that most of the talk around this amounts to little more than rhetoric and for me this is in itself enough reason not to support the budget.
I also used the speeches to highlight the massive pressures on our NHS and the very real problems being faced by staff in the NHS every day. It is my view that the NHS was the greatest social creation of the last century, the envy of the world and therefore in this century we have a duty to not only defend it but to make sure that the correct focus and resources are available to allow it to function and meet the needs of the 21st century. This budget did not do enough of this for me and it fails to even acknowledge the real crisis our NHS is experiencing.
It is also the case that yet again local government is taking a real term cash cut and the on-going council tax freeze remains underfunded putting even greater pressure on frontline council services. This is not a situation that can continue and yet there is no recognition of this reality and indeed no recognition of the key frontline role local government has in tackling poverty and inequality.
If we are to tackle poverty we must invest in skills, training and jobs. Sadly, the budget fails in this area. Of course there will be a lot of good areas of spend in a budget of this size, but these failures identified above are so significant in my view that I would have been failing in my duty as an MSP if I had simply nodded this budget through as so many did.
We need a national strategy for tackling poverty and inequality with a joined up approach from national government and recognition of the key role of local government pulling together all community planning partners to direct the strategy and putting it into practice on the ground. Such a strategy would have to sit at the heart of the Scottish Government’s budget and yet is totally absent from the budget voted through last week.