Scottish election: Report criticises manifesto promises
Much of the country's current funding difficulties are being "wished away" by politicians, according to analysis of the four main party manifestos.
Glasgow University's Centre for Public Policy for Regions compared manifesto costings, against a falling budget.
It said the documents had been devalued by a lack of detail on how spending commitments would be met.
One of the report's authors said the parties were not being up-front with voters.
It said the electorate was being sidelined by not being given the information which would help them decide which party's approach they preferred.
End Quote Douglas Fraser BBC Scotland business editor
Election campaigning has reached a sad stage when it's a battle over which party has the biggest black hole.”
John McLaren said: "I think the parties are trying to wait until they get through the election before they make the difficult decisions, which makes it difficult for the voters to know exactly what they're voting for when they put their x in the box."
He said Liberal Democrat and Conservative plans to change Scottish Water's structure was one example of the parties releasing "substantial" funding which could be spent elsewhere.
Labour and the SNP have promised to make 2% efficiency savings across the public sector, he said.
But the report said because the public sector accounted for more than 50% of the Scottish budget, to achieve a 2% efficiency saving from this would require not only a pay freeze, but also another 2% cut in costs.
Report in full
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Mr McLaren said: "In the public sector, all the parties will be looking for what they call generic efficiency savings. Those are very large and are required by a number of parties to make their budget balance.
"But what that means is that there is effectively going to be a four-year freeze on wages - which is a big ask.
"And on top of that, they're looking for another 2% efficiency savings - you can get that by cutting wages, which nobody is proposing, by cutting jobs - which is most likely - or by improving productivity. And the record of public sector productivity is not good.
"If that doesn't come through it means that non-wage elements like capital spending will have to be even more severely cut back than they are already - which is pretty tight as it is."
The report's conclusion said: "Serious questions have to be asked of all of the four main parties as to whether what they have outlined in their manifestos is sufficient to meet the challenges facing them in terms of the real terms cuts to their budget over the next four years.
How do the statistics stack up?
"Voters are entitled to be highly sceptical as to whether what they are being offered in their manifestos is actually what will happen, rather than a pale imitation of the difficult choices that await post-election."
It said the manifestos contained a "plethora of seeming commitments and pledges".
But it added that when the proposals were broken down they were often found to have no increased funding attached to them. It pointed out that in some cases the funding is expected to arise from generic efficiency savings.
"The true worth of such commitments must therefore be called into question in many cases," the report said.
It said there was no way of accommodating for inflationary pressures or no contingencies if costs rose faster than projected.