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Swinney urges CIPFA members to innovate

By Keith Aitken in Glasgow | 6 March 2013

Scotland’s public finance professionals should not wait for political permission before innovating to reform and improve service delivery, Finance Secretary John Swinney told the CIPFA Scotland conference.

Swinney admitted to fears that the three-year £500m change funding, which the Scottish Government has provided to drive reform would become the major focus for innovation, to the exclusion of the other £60bn being spent on Scottish public services over the same period.

‘I would encourage this audience to think in a different way about how we innovate and not to wait for permission to be given by political leadership,’ he said.  

The shift to more preventative, collaborative and personalised services was ‘a very exciting agenda, and it needs to activate every public servant in the land to think differently about how we operate’.

He said he had every confidence in the capacity of the accounting profession to meet the challenges of change. ‘The finance professionals of Scotland have provided an important bulwark in managing a fundamentally more challenging financial environment, and that is something of which the financial professionals of Scotland should be proud.’

Swinney also told the conference that Scottish ministers had used the paving legislation for the limited new tax powers devolved to Holyrood under the 2012 Scotland Act to pilot a tougher approach to tax collection, and a more progressive fiscal strategy, which they hoped to apply generally if Scotland votes for independence at September’s referendum.

He pointed to the replacement of stamp duty, one of the devolved taxes, with a property transaction tax more closely related to ability to pay. 

‘It’s an indication of the thinking that the government has about the exercise of tax responsibilities,’ he said, referencing Adam Smith’s prescription that tax should reflect ability to pay, convenience to collect, and simplicity to administer.

Holyrood is currently processing the Bill that will allow the Scottish Government to set and collect a share of income tax from 2016, and Swinney said it represented ‘my best attempt to get to a maximalist position of intolerance to tax avoidance’. 

His hope, Swinney said, was that these principles would extend throughout the tax system after independence, and he appealed to public finance professionals to seize the opportunity to help create ‘a coherent and cohesive’ approach across the public finances, that encompassed taxation, spending and benefits.

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