Thursday, 18 November 2010

Budget statement - UNISON Scotland initial response

The Scottish Government's commitment to a Living Wage is welcome. But they show little understanding of the reality of life for those on modest incomes. Low paid workers providing public services face increased pension contributions, housing benefit cuts and increasing inflation on essentials such as food and heating costs. That all adds up, not to a pay freeze, but a very real cut in living standards.

Any commitment to avoid compulsory redundancies is welcome, but is far from clear whether this can be delivered. Areas such as local Government are outwith direct Scottish Government control - and the budget document itself discusses lowering staff numbers as a way of implementing cuts. We are appalled at the retention of the Council Tax Freeze - a policy that has already Scottish Local Authorities in excess of £150million. Councils will - as they have been doing already - attempt to plug the gap left by reducing services and increasing charges. This has a disproportionate impact on the low paid - who are also the people who save least from freezing Council Tax.

Local authorities are being offered Hobson's Choice by The Scottish Government. They can accept a cut of 2.6% by signing up to a whole range of Scottish government priorities - or assert their independence and take a reduction of 6.4% - which would mean either decimating services or a Council Tax rise in double figures.

The Scottish Government announce that police numbers will be maintained but neglects to mention that increasing numbers of uniformed officers will be employed on administrative and specialist tasks as Police (civilian) staffs are cut. It is a waste of public money and a cosmetic political exercise to keep police numbers up this way when the public rightly expect them to be visible on the streets.

Mr Swinney should be more honest with the public. When he says efficiency savings of 3% what he means is 'cut'. There is a difference between reducing the budget and being more efficient. Where is the efficiency in a smaller number of people delivering a poorer service?

Despite protesting otherwise Mr Swinney has announced the return of PFI - via his non profit distributing model. This is essentially PFI lite. What he failed to make clear today is the long term impact on revenue budgets by using this model.

Funding capital projects through revenue budgets means long term pain for short term gain.

Women come off badly in this budget. In the equality statement accompanying the budget the issue of unequal pay is largely avoided. There are observations about segregation in the workforce and overall pay gaps but it seems to contains nothing on equal pay litigation in public services other than a commitment to conduct pay reviews for government staff. There appear to be no funds, no capitalisation and no action on the audits that have shown the scale of the problem.

Speaking after the announcement UNISON Scotland Convener Mike Kirby said "John Swinney spoke about choices today - and he made the wrong ones. His pay freeze amounts to a real terms wage cut for many modestly paid people in Scotland. Public Service workers in Scotland face a double whammy, as workers many will see a pay cut. And as service users they will find they are paying more for services that will become ever more threadbare"


Notes for editors UNISON Scotland will publish analysis of the Budget Statement in the coming days

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