The Scottish government has given a lukewarm response to the chancellor’s autumn statement, which announced an additional £394 million of capital spending for the Scottish government.
In welcoming this announcement, Scottish finance secretary John Swinney said:
“After two-and-a-half years in office the chancellor has finally heeded Scotland’s calls to boost capital spending. The steps he has taken are welcome but they only take us halfway towards common sense in terms of investment and there is still a lack of a coherent plan to return the economy to growth.
“I will confirm shortly how we will allocate this funding for the coming year.
“However, this allocation of funding is only recovering some of the ground from the unprecedented cuts already imposed on Scotland over the last few years which have seen our budget cut by 33 per cent in real terms. These latest announcements show that the cut in our capital budget is now 25.9 per cent.”
Turning his attention to the dismal growth figures, Swinney continued:
“George Osborne has again had to revise down growth forecasts. This is the cost of delay. After failing to generate growth with his own plans, he has had to accept the logic of our argument and follow the actions of Scotland by investing more of the budget into building projects that will bring jobs and boost the economy, as well as providing lasting benefits in the way of infrastructure.
“The chancellor’s decision to extend austerity to 2018 show how badly his plan has failed.
“The only certainty now offered by the UK is five more years of public spending cuts. Through their ill-thought-out welfare reform the UK government is also causing another £200 million to be taken out of the Scottish economy.”
Among the measures outlined for Northern Ireland is £132m of additional capital spending and exempting it from the Carbon Price Floor to level the playing field with competitors in the Republic of Ireland.
Welcoming the decision on the Carbon Price Floor, Northern Ireland’s finance minister, Sammy Wilson, responded:
“Over recent weeks I have robustly made the case to the Chief Secretary that enforcement of the Carbon Price Floor upon Northern Ireland would have a massive detrimental impact on the local energy sector – for example local generators would have lost out to southern generators and electricity bills could have risen between 10 and 15%. I am therefore particularly pleased that HM Treasury have responded positively to our concerns.
“In the current economic hardship this will go some way in assisting those who are most vulnerable ensuring that electricity bills remain at a fair and affordable rate.”
However, whilst welcoming the extra funds for capital investment, he concluded:
“The OBR projections for the UK economy and public finances suggest that further public expenditure reductions will be necessary beyond 2014-15. There can be no doubt that the Executive will face some very difficult decisions as part of its next budget setting process. It is therefore critically important that all ministers deal responsibly with key policy areas to ensure that no unavoidable costs are imposed on us.”
In Wales, meanwhile, news from the autumn statement that the Welsh government will benefit from an additional £227m of capital spending was hailed by the Welsh Lib Dem leader, Kirsty Williams, as a sign of the influence Lib Dems have in government.
It’s not a view shared by all parties.
Declaring the statement to be a “humiliating climb-down for a chancellor”, Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesman, Jonathan Edwards, said:
“This autumn statement is a humiliating climb-down for a chancellor in denial who is now being forced to admit the failure of his austerity experiment.
“Missed debt and deficit targets coupled with the OBR’s downgrading of forecasts have exposed the chancellor’s lack of a long-term strategy for growth and he is now presented with a golden opportunity to reverse the downward spiral which is rapidly leading to increased and institutionalised poverty and unemployment.”
“The announcement on capital investment is also to be welcomed, but for this to be funded via extra austerity will be self defeating. We also have grave concerns over the introduction of regional pay for teachers – a deeply damaging policy that The Party of Wales warned against in our 2011 manifesto…
“As the chancellor churns out more policies that will prolong the age of austerity and its toxic legacy, The Party of Wales remains the only party offering a workable alternative that would lead our nation along a path to fairness and prosperity.”