We’ll assume that the trails are right and that the Chancellor today will announce as part of his budget, an injection of capital of £2.5 billion for growth projects.
We’ll also assume that, nice man that he is, Scotland will get its full share of Barnett consequentials of this extra money, somewhere in the region of £250 million.
Now let’s put that in perspective.
The 2013-14 Scottish budget contains £2.5 billion capital expenditure – so the same amount over all of the UK isn’t going to stretch very far. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s list of “shovel-ready” projects amounts to some £800 million additional spend, so we’re not going to be able to buy all the messages we want.
But let’s not be churlish – some additional capital spend is better than none. However, given that the fund appears to have been rustled up out of savings from departments which spend, there is a very good chance that the budget robs from the Scottish block grant in total only to give us back our additional share, which is the kind of economic illiteracy we have come to expect from this Chancellor. And it is also the kind of supposedly cunning wheeze that Chancellors love. But until we see the detail of the announcements in today’s budget, we have no way of knowing. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope not.
So what messages might our extra keep money help us buy?
Given the low-level murmurings about Commonwealth Games legacy or potential lack thereof, I’d be tempted to put quite a lot of it into Glasgow and also into projects which give the rest of the country a boost. So, maybe the £23.6 million for sports legacy projects will find favour. And also the £1.3 million for investment in visitor centres, including Glasgow’s. I’d be tempted too to seize upon the fact that some trunk roads run through the streets of Glasgow and invest a dollop in filling potholes and fixing pavements before the Games begin, but without handing a penny more over to the council. They’d only waste it on fanciful schemes for regenerating George Square. And talking of which, I’d steal a march there and do that job for them too. The Scottish Government could legitimately give the money needed to the Commonwealth Games organising committee, instruct it to involve the goodly people of Glasgow and reinforce Glasgow City Council’s leader’s misery, just as a nice wee aside.
The Scottish Government has announced ambitious plans to reform the Scottish courts structure with a new bill. Only they’d be ambitious if there was any money to spend on the estate; largely, it amounts to a rationalisation programme without any means with which to modernise our court buildings. So the £8.4 million needed for this could be found and just to make the money go further, link it up to investment in community hubs – a further £3million – and do a spend to save initiative. Pick areas where existing estate could be sold off, even in the current climate, to raise extra money, barter with councils and Scottish Enterprise for a gift of land and build brand new courts, fit for 21st Century purpose, which are also community hubs comprising local authority services, neighbourhood police offices, libraries, third sector services like benefits advice, with space too for sheriff clerks and procurator fiscals. Oh, and ensure there were early years services located there too – or that accommodation freed up for other hub services is reclaimed and redesigned to provide early years community services where they are needed. And to knock heads together and avoid years of wrangling and petty squabbling across the public sector, put a time limit on the projects. Get bricks in the ground by a certain date or lose the money: simples.
But this is small change expenditure really; there are big ticket money projects needing investment too. Health facilities need upgraded – and given the recent hidden waiting lists stushie and the suggestion that boards are massaging the figures, there might be some merit in increasing operating theatre capacity and in investing in new specialist facilities, particularly in rural areas. This bothers me a bit, because it amounts to admitting to failure. That the nation’s health is not going to improve and that we are always going to need more acute services because we are always going to need more operations, more fancy dan equipment and more life saving treatments.
No, I’d prefer to put money into providing for our rapidly ageing population. We are going to have more pensioners and we need to start thinking a little harder about how our infrastructure provides for them and helps to keep them well and hale and hearty.
Top of my messages list would be housing – energy efficiency, adaptations and new build, just as the Scottish Government has been doing.
This is not an admission of defeat in relation to the bedroom tax but a simple acknowledgement that we haven’t got nearly enough single bed properties – beat the system and build them with box rooms too! – and insufficient semi-sheltered and sheltered housing options, to enable older people to live independently for longer. Nor do we have nearly enough fully accessible homes for disabled people. Not schemes creating ghettos but adding in such homes to existing development plans and also newly built estates. We could also invest in more suitable temporary accommodation too, particularly for families, to address the homelessness increase which austerity and welfare reform is inevitably going to cause.
Investing in new homes produces relatively quick results, creates construction jobs and gives people decent places to live. There would be somapproximately £200 million to spend. A recently announced package of £38 million will deliver enhanced energy efficiency in 8,000 homes, fund adaptation of 2000 homes for older and disabled people and build 350 new ones: we’d be able to deliver five times as many if we take the bulk of our giveaway and put it all on one big ticket number. Apportioning a little here and a little there fritters away the impact and potential effect. I’d go for the roulette option and place most of it on the black of housing.
And all we need to do now is explain to the Chancellor what a messages list is.