Scottish parties invited for budget review talks

composite picture of public services The report recommends subjecting all public services to scrutiny

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The Scottish government is to invite opposition parties to talks on the findings of an independent review of Scotland's finances.

The Independent Budget Review has set out a range of options for tackling a long-term squeeze on public spending.

The recommendations include cutting up to 60,000 jobs in the public sector.

The report also recommended subjecting all services to scrutiny and reviewing all universal or subsidised health services.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said the Scottish government would give "careful consideration" to the report's recommendations but suggested there was "no need to pursue all of these as they would generate far more savings than is actually required".

He said the government's task now was to encourage the widest possible debate about the range of options contained in the review.

He continued: "That is why I have written inviting opposition parties in Scotland to take part in discussions on the review, and to seek their response to the options that are set out."

Mr Swinney said the Scottish government's budget would not be known until the UK government's Comprehensive Spending Review was announced on October 20.

He added: "Once that is done, and we have taken account of the views of Scotland, we will set out a budget that is focused on sustaining economic recovery and protecting frontline services."

Start Quote

...the government have enough information to come forward with their initial budget and in so doing allow the public and the parliament to be part of the debate”

End Quote Andy Kerr Scottish Labour's finance spokesman

The Scottish Liberal Democrats indicated support for a meeting to discuss the review, which was led by former Scottish Executive head Crawford Beveridge, but said the discussion needed to be informed by what the Scottish government proposed as a detailed response to its recommendations.

Lib Dem finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis said he would be tabling a parliamentary motion on Thursday demanding that the Scottish government published its detailed policy intentions in response to each recommendation by the time the Scottish parliament returned after summer recess.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour also called on the Scottish government to make time to debate the report in the first week of the next parliamentary session.

It also called for Mr Swinney to publish his own draft budget at the same time.

Labour's finance spokesman Andy Kerr said: "The report itself makes clear that the government have enough information to come forward with their initial budget and in so doing allow the public and the parliament to be part of the debate."

The Scottish Tories said the country had entered a new era in public spending and public services and no-one should underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead.

Finance spokesman Derek Brownlee said the report deserved "full and serious consideration and a full engagement with corporate and civic Scotland, and there must be an early debate in the Scottish parliament".

Scottish Water, which the report suggested should have its status as a public body reconsidered, said any decision on the future ownership or funding of Scottish Water was a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

Business leaders welcomed the publication of the report.

CBI Scotland said it was encouraging that many of the recommendations in the report echoed what the organisation had been calling for, including a "much more imaginative and bold response" to the squeeze on public finances than government and parliamentarians had shown to date.

But unions were less than enthusiastic about the report's recommendations.

Unison said it rejected "the prescription of the Independent Budget Review for an assault on Scotland's public services and privatising Scottish Water".

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