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Doing the deal

Brian Taylor | 18:31 UK time, Wednesday, 17 November 2010

In the event, it was an assured and confident performance by the Finance Secretary John Swinney - even as he announced £1bn in cuts.

For why? Well, for one, because he is a skilled politician. For another, because he contrived to transfer blame to the present and previous UK governments.

And, for a third, because he was able to vaunt a deal with Scotland's local authority leaders - I stress, leaders, not necessarily each and every council.
That deal paves the way to providing Scotland with the one thousand extra police officers which now stands out as the core SNP policy pledge to be redeemed (albeit one that was driven by the Tories.)

You could argue that the councils have surrendered a degree of their much trumpeted independence in agreeing to strive towards central government objectives.

But you could also argue that the cash return - in terms of cuts foregone - is so substantial that it is a relatively advantageous deal for local authorities.

Certainly, given the penalty for derogating from the deal, it will be hard for individual authorities to say no.

Winners and losers

The winner? The NHS with a real terms increase - although health staff would undoubtedly tell you that rising demand and rising costs cancel that out.

The losers? Housing, colleges and universities (although the big cut is in capital, not revenue), prisons.

There are cuts too in rail services and motorway maintenance among the spread pain.

Will the Budget get through? As of tonight, no.

Each of the opposition parties is declaring that it falls short - with Labour particularly vituperative about the absence of detailed planning beyond next year.

Making it clear

There is even bold murmuring in one or two corners about defeating not just the Budget - but the Government, precipitating a possible early election.

Certainly, as Ministers make clear, a government cannot continue if it cannot win support for its financial plans.

So do I think this will happen? No. There is one political impulse - which is to make life difficult for an incumbent government.

But there is another - which is to match the mood of the people. And that mood, I suspect, would not countenance what might be seen as political "game playing".


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