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Has Swinney got 'loadsamoney'?

The character of 'Loadsamoney' sprang to mind when considering the Scottish Finance Secretary and Deputy First Minister, John Swinney Photo: PA

Remember Harry Enfield's 'Loadsamoney', a character who helped define the Thatcher era, at least for many of the Left?

Enfield's wad-waving stand-up comedy creation was famous, for a while at least. The fictional plasterer had "loadsamoney" and wasn't afraid to flaunt his cash.

It was social comment, satirizing what those opposed to Mrs Thatcher and her 'ism' saw as the get rich quick mentality that swept through the UK, infecting everyone from bankers to, well, plasterers.

There's another view of that era, of course, as the time when Britain finally threw off the shackles of state socialism and grew more prosperous by encouraging the free market.

The character of 'Loadsamoney' sprang to mind when considering the Scottish Finance Secretary and Deputy First Minister, John Swinney.

Scottish Finance Secretary and Deputy First Minister, John Swinney Credit: David Cheskin/PA Wire

Now let me be clear: Mr Swinney is about as far from a flashy, boastful plasterer waving banknotes around as you can get.

If old-fashioned, prudent, cautious, bank managers still existed, Mr Swinney would fit that bill exactly.

Yet, as Holyrood embarks on the final stage of the budget bill tomorrow it is worth asking if Mr Swinney does indeed have 'loadsamoney' at his disposal?

Or whether, as he and the SNP Scottish government maintain, Scotland is suffering from Westminster-imposed austerity.

You get plenty of rhetoric on this but it’s always good to look at a fact or two. So how has the Scoland done since the parliament was established in 1999?

The politically independent researchers in the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe to its friends) have taken a look at the books since 1999, and this is what they found.

The figures collected by independent researchers in the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Parliament Information Centre Credit: ITV Border

What does this mean? First to explain: DEL is Departmental Expenditure Limit. In other words the amount that comes to Scotland from Westminster.

And what does the term ‘real’ mean? Put simply by SPICe, the amounts are adjusted “for the effect of general price inflation as measured by the GDP market price deflator”.

In other words, according to SPICe, this “enables comparisons of spending across years without the distortion caused by price changes”.

What conclusions can we draw? Well, that the Scottish government’s budget in real terms peaked in 2009/10 at some £32.16 billion.

Since then, it has dropped in real terms to £29.50 billion in this year, 2014/15, but it rises a bit to £29.75 billion next year.

But we can also say that compared to 1999/2000 Mr Swinney has more than £10 billion in real terms to play with - £19.57bn compared to the £29.75bn next year.

What do the opposition parties make of this? The Scottish Tories finance spokesperson, MSP Gavin Brown, points to the total Scottish Government budget for each year in cash terms - not real terms - from 2008-09 to 2015-16.

He says it shows it has risen every year, except between 2010-11 and 2011-12, where it dropped from £34.27 billion to £33.49 billion.

Mr Brown says: “The rises in spending are smaller than they would have been, had the crash not happened, but people who describe this as 'savage cuts' clearly have never looked at the numbers.”

In looking at the real terms figures, he adds Scotland has “less at our disposal than 2009-10 but more than any other year apart from that”.

What does the the Scottish Government say on behalf of Mr Swinney?

“Since 2010-11, the discretionary budget of the Scottish Government has been cut by nearly 10% in real terms at the same time as the responsibilities and financial demands on the Scottish Government have significantly increased, and the public have faced the pressures of recession.

“The Office Budget Responsibility report that the UK Government’s austerity programme means that by 2019-20 total public spending will fall to its lowest level, as a share of GDP, for 80 years whilst the Institute Fiscal Studies have warned that the UK Government’s plans will require ‘spending cuts on a colossal scale’, which will change the role of the state ‘beyond recognition’.”

– Spokesperson, Scottish Government

According to the Scottish government, since devolution, the Scottish budget includes some additional resources to compensate for the transfer of additional responsibilities from Westminster including £400-500m for rail services (from 06-07), £400m for council tax benefit (from 10-11) and changes to non-cash budget such as Student Loans which accounts for £300m in 15-16.

Does that answer the question of whether there is much more money or not, well the opposition will say ‘No’ and the Scottish government ‘Yes’. No surprises there.

When he comes to parliament on Wednesday to put the finishing touches to his budget we can confidently predict Mr Swinney will not be waving wads of used fivers around under the noses of opposition MSPs.

The facts, however, do show he has “loadsamoney”. What Mr Swinney is will argue is that he has far less than he should have. Which is a rather different proposition. With far less comedy potential too.