Jenny Marra MSP

Public Services

Speech , Scottish Parliament, 17 January 2018

Jenny Marra : Last year, Dundee City Council had to make cuts of £12.5 million; the year before that, it had to make cuts of £23 million. This year, the proposed settlement is so bad that the SNP council leader, John Alexander, has written to the cabinet secretary to try to secure a better deal for our city. That comes shortly after he announced that, based on the draft budget, Dundee will face cuts of up to £15.7 million this year.

It is extremely worrying that there are indicators from the council that workers’ terms and conditions could be affected. Given the continual references by the council and the chief executive to flexibility from staff, coupled with different shift patterns for care workers, it is clear to me and the Scottish Labour Party who will bear the brunt of the latest round of cuts.

Angus Council has also had millions of pounds cut from its budget. It has 500 fewer staff than it did in 2010. There are no signs of those reductions letting up—it plans to shed another 800 jobs over the coming three years. Even the council’s independent leader said that he cannot deliver the current range and volume of services and that the council will have to prioritise.

The cabinet secretary has tried to divert our attention by declaring that councils can raise their tax by up to 3 per cent, but that ignores that the crisis in local government finance has been crippled by his Government’s decade-long freeze of the council tax; it also ignores that a full 3 per cent rise would barely scratch the cuts required as a result of his budget. In Dundee, the SNP council estimates that the full 3 per cent rise would raise £1.5 million in additional revenue. That is not even one tenth of the savings that are required.

The problems in NHS Tayside are well known. It is the clearest example in Scotland of mismanagement leading to financial crisis in a public service. The board owes the Scottish Government £35 million, and it is facing cuts of more than £200 million in the next few years. That is coupled with the local council services cuts that I have outlined.

Derek Mackay: Will the member give way?

Jenny Marra: No, I will not give way. The board still struggles to move away from using agency nurses and rising prescription costs, but what do we get? A meagre 1.3 per cent rise in real-terms spending for the NHS. That is nowhere close enough to meet the ever-increasing demands of an ageing population and ill health; it is not enough to get NHS Tayside anywhere near financial health.

Derek Mackay: Will the member give way?

Jenny Marra: I will make one more point before doing so. What of the cabinet secretary’s promised pay rise for public sector workers? He announced in the chamber with great fanfare that he would give public sector workers a long-awaited pay rise, with those on £30,000 or less getting a 3 per cent rise. On Monday, he admitted under questioning from the Finance and Constitution Committee, that he has not allocated any extra money to councils to pay for that promise. I am happy to take your intervention now, finance secretary. How should Dundee City Council pay its workers the pay rise that you promised while making cuts of £15.7 million? It would be very welcome if you could give workers in Dundee that answer today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Before the cabinet secretary intervenes, I make the point that the only person in the chamber who can use the term “you” in referring to other members is me as the chair. I ask members not to do so, please.

Derek Mackay: I ask the question that I wanted to put to Jenny Marra earlier, when she was speaking about expenditure items. It was my understanding that the Labour Party was proposing to give all additional revenues raised through taxation to local government, so why not a penny more for the national health service?

Jenny Marra: First of all, I apologise, Presiding Officer—I am still getting into my stride after a short absence, and I heed what you are saying. The cabinet secretary forgets that it is he who has the budget in front of him, that he is responsible for the decisions, and that these are his cuts that he is asking people in my city and across this country to make. Surely it is impossible for this Parliament to have confidence in a budget from a finance secretary who refuses to address the issues seriously. What does the Scottish Government say to those workers in Dundee City Council who do not know whether they will get the pay rise that he promised them and that they so desperately need? What does the cabinet secretary say to the patients, the nurses and the doctors in NHS Tayside whose health board is in financial dire straits and whose management cannot seem to be able to get them out of the situation that it is in?

In Dundee and Angus, we face increasing demand on our public services, as we do in the rest of the country, but we are governed by ministers who are not prepared to rise to that challenge.


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