Sturgeon splits Swinney’s finance and economy brief

11 May 16

The finance and economy briefs in the Scottish Cabinet, combined since 2007 under John Swinney, are to be separated at the outset of the new Holyrood Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced today.

At her first press conference since last week’s election of a third successive Scottish National Party government, Sturgeon attributed the change to Holyrood’s assumption of new tax powers under the 2016 Scotland Act, and to predictions of a more challenging economic climate ahead. Both Conservative and Labour spokesmen welcomed the decision to split the portfolio.

“This is not a reflection on how these jobs have been done in the past.  It is a reflection of the challenges and opportunities we face in the future,” Sturgeon said.

“The economic challenges, but also the recognition that we are going to be preparing for and then dealing with the introduction of new powers on tax and on welfare.”

It is the most significant reshaping of what was once a hugely expansive brief, with Swinney initially bearing responsibility for an immense spread of topics from local government to economic development, and tourism to the treasury function.  

His performance in post has been widely respected, prompting some speculation in recent days that Sturgeon might want to shift him to a high-profile policy portfolio, like education or health.

Sturgeon, who is expected to name her ministerial team within the next few days, also moved to address concerns about the SNP’s dominance of Scottish politics by outlining several ideas to increase the accountability to Holyrood of herself and her ministers – though she acknowledged that it would be for the parliament to decide whether to take them up.

She indicated a readiness to appear more frequently for questioning by committees of the parliament, following calls from outgoing Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick for their role to be strengthened. Sturgeon also suggested that the weekly First Minister’s question time could be extended from 30 to 45 minutes.

Following the SNP’s loss of its overall majority at last week’s election, Sturgeon has opted to lead a minority government rather than seek a formal cross-party pact. She nevertheless insists that she intends to implement her party’s manifesto, while at the same time reaching out to seek consensus wherever possible with other parties in the parliament.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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