Devolved finance ministers issue warning on pace of austerity

24 Aug 15

Finance ministers from the UK’s three devolved administrations have issued a joint warning that UK government plans will cut spending “too fast and too far” and present a risk to public services.

Ahead of the Spending Review on 25 November, the statement from the finance ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said Chancellor George Osborne’s proposed cuts were unnecessary.

In a letter to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands, the ministers – John Swinney from the Scottish Government, Arlene Foster of the Northern Ireland Executive and Jane Hutt of the Welsh Government – also called for better communication.

“The three devolved administrations agree that ongoing austerity presents unnecessary risks to our public services,” Swinney, who is also deputy first minister of Scotland, said.

“The planned announcement of the UK Spending Review in late November leaves little time for setting our own budgets before 2016/17, presenting significant operational challenges and potentially constraining the time available for Parliamentary process. We therefore need early engagement to help us understand, as fully and as early as possible, the shape of likely funding settlements from the Spending Review.”

The letter to Hands stated that Westminster plans, which also included a £3bn in-year reduction announced in June, were developed “in an unsatisfactory way, with neither advance notice nor apparent consideration of the implications for the devolved administrations”.

The ministers stated: “There will, in addition, be considerable difficulties for our delivery bodies and stakeholders who will have little notice of their future allocations.

“We therefore seek early engagement with you during the Spending Review process to help us understand as fully and as early as possible the shape of likely funding settlements for the devolved administrations.”

In particular, the letter called for Treasury ministers to meet their counterparts from the devolved governments, as there has been no such meeting since November 2013.

Responding to the letter, a Treasury spokeswoman said the government's long-term economic plan was working.

“Britain was the fastest growing economy in the G7 in 2014 and 2015 and the deficit has been more than halved.

“However it is still too high - at just under 5%, it is one of the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – and it is no surprise to anyone that the government has clear plans to deal with it. The spending review will set out the savings needed for the country to live within its means.”

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