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Choosing your comrades

Brian Taylor | 15:31 UK time, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Few details from John Swinney in his statement responding to the chancellor's package of financial measures.

That upset some - with Tavish Scott of the Lib Dems complaining later that the finance secretary had indulged in a whinge with little substance of his own.

Labour's Andy Kerr wanted to know what, where and when with regard to the promised programme of accelerated capital investment.

That is, of course, a classic theme from Mr Kerr, particularly in respect of the Scottish Futures Trust. (He distrusts it and suspects it has little future.)

Up with this Mr Swinney would not put. He had, he said, been "ahead of the game" with regard to speeding up housing investment.

That, he said, lay at the core of the controversy over whether he was or was not invited by the Treasury in September to bring forward investment.

He was, he said - but in a letter which referred specifically to housing money and went on to acknowledge that Scottish ministers had already outlined such a scheme.

Targeted support

Further, it was unreasonable to expect full details of capital investment a couple of days after the chancellor's statement - and prior to talks with local authority partners.

So was there any consensus? Some. Mr Swinney praised elements of the chancellor's package - while noting that he would have preferred to see more targeted support on tackling fuel poverty and reviving the housing sector.

There was an acerbic note of cross-party agreement, advanced by Derek Brownlee for the Conservatives.

Both they and the SNP, he said, now knew what it was like to pick up the pieces after Labour failure.

Probably wisely, Mr Swinney declined to rise to that. He prefers, one suspects, to pick his own fights - and choose his own comrades; however helpful Mr Brownlee has been in the past, for example over last year's Scottish budget.

But to the substance - what little there was at this stage.

Mr Swinney signalled that he would exploit the offer of advanced capital invesment to the full. That means bringing forward £260m.

Cash in pockets

But it won't just go on public value projects. It's plain that the test will also include bolstering the economy.

So that means schools: broader thinking is that Scotland must upskill to be ready for the upturn - when it comes.

It means transport infrastructure: improving economic prospects. It means fuel efficiency and tackling fuel poverty: redressing the impact of recession and putting money in pockets.

It means housing: the construction industry.

However, as with so much in these notably troubled times, this was a holding statement pending further detail: a provisional plan.


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