John Ferry John Ferry

Who’s paying the price for Sturgeon’s pandemic politics?

(Getty images)

Don’t worry if you missed the press release announcing which Scottish taxes are going up to pay for Nicola Sturgeon’s headline grabbing four per cent minimum pay rise offer for certain front-line healthcare workers, including nurses. You missed it because there wasn’t one.

In characteristically hubristic form, the Scottish Government made the announcement just a few hours before the pre-election ‘purdah’ period began, with Sturgeon immediately taking to Twitter to declare

‘Our NHS staff deserve more than applause and one per cent is not enough’. 

It was a thinly-veiled dig at the offer Boris Johnson’s administration has put forward in England.

Normally when a government makes an announcement like this the immediate question is: where is the money coming from? Cuts elsewhere, perhaps? Tax rises? Extra borrowing? 

The announcements are a microcosm of the SNP’s years in power

In this case there is no need to ask. The Scottish Government has had so much money flowing into its coffers over the last 12 months – and Covid-19 spending announcements have been so ubiquitous and complex – that it has had more than enough cover and flexibility to organise a big pre-election giveaway with the resources at its disposal.

A February report from Audit Scotland, the official auditor of public spending, outlined how murky the financing picture has become in Scotland. Over 170 Covid-19 related spending announcements had been made at that point. These are in addition to UK Government spending commitments that apply to Scotland, such as furlough support. In a statement entitled Transparency needed to follow pandemic pound that was put out alongside the report, Scotland’s Auditor General Stephen Boyle warned it is ‘getting harder to identify what is, and isn’t, Covid-19 spending’.

Still, some interesting numbers came out in the report. The Scottish Government received £9.7 billion of additional funding to the Scottish budget in the year 2020-21 via the Barnett formula, the mechanism by which the Treasury allocates block grants to devolved administrations.

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