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Kate Forbes: Healthcare workforce will not have to return to pre-pandemic levels

The NHS will likely not have to reset their workforce numbers, Kate Forbes said. (Peter Byrne/PA)
The NHS will likely not have to reset their workforce numbers, Kate Forbes said. (Peter Byrne/PA)

Reducing Scotland’s public sector workforce to “pre-pandemic levels” is unlikely to prompt job cuts in healthcare, the Finance Secretary has said.

Kate Forbes told the Scottish Parliament’s finance committee that the sector was likely to need greater staff numbers, but other public services may be reduced further to reach an overall “pre-Covid” workforce level.

Scotland’s public sector staff numbers have grown from around 410,000 to 440,000 in the last five years, and estimates suggest 30,000 jobs may need to be cut by 2026/27 to reduce the pay bill of more than £21 billion.

In her spending review last week, Ms Forbes outlined plans to reduce the overall public sector workforce, with the aim of keeping the total pay bill at 2022/23 levels.

At the finance committee on Tuesday she told MSPs that healthcare – which makes up half of the public sector growth – was not likely to be affected.

However she said she “has not put a figure” on how many jobs need to be cut from the public sector.

Conservative MSP Douglas Lumsden told her that public sector workers deserved to know where “the axe will fall” in terms of job reductions.

She replied: “What I’ve been at pains not to do is set an arbitrary target on figures. And second to dictate to specific public bodies what they need to do.

“We will engage with them, and most importantly with trade unions, over the next few months in advance of this upcoming budget in terms of where the workforce needs to be reset.

“It is based on a freezing of pay bill that doesn’t equate to a freezing of pay level. That’s what’s driving the need to reform.”

Kate Forbes comments
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes (Jane Barlow/PA)

Labour finance spokesman Daniel Johnson told Ms Forbes the other public sectors will be forced to choose whether to cut pay or staff numbers.

He said that alongside an estimated 15,000 increase in healthcare staff, there have been 4,000 new civil servants, 7,000 added to local government and 5,000 to public corporations that may take the brunt of the cuts.

Ms Forbes agreed that some sectors that no longer require the additional staff will have to reassess their workforce numbers.

She said: “It’s about effective management across the board, rather than setting arbitrary targets over a very short period of time.”

Earlier in the meeting, Ms Forbes said “there was no black hole” in public finances after outlining her spending review to MSPs.

In response to Liz Smith, Scottish Conservative finance spokeswoman, Ms Forbes said it was “factually inaccurate” to suggest there was a £3.5 billion deficit in public finances as the spending review requires the Finance Minister to balance the projected funds.