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Swinney: Giving council finance directors extra cash would ‘starve the NHS’

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has addressed the financial pressures facing local government (Jane Barlow/PA)
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has addressed the financial pressures facing local government (Jane Barlow/PA)

John Swinney has acknowledged warnings from council finance chiefs who said vital services could be cut due to a budget gap of £1 billion – but warned it would be “impractical” to follow all of their recommendations.

All 32 of Scotland’s council directors of finance wrote to Deputy First Minister and interim Finance Secretary Mr Swinney to highlight concerns over the sustainability of councils.

The letter warned tough decisions could be made on axing or reducing key services in schools and the health sector if additional support is not made available.

It urged Mr Swinney to reduce the “bureaucracy over small pots of monies” and give local government “full autonomy” over how the funds are used.

It also requested that Barnett consequentials from the UK Government are targeted to support vital local government services.

But Mr Swinney, who will set out the Scottish budget on December 15, said it would take away vital cash from the NHS, which is under significant pressure.

Responding to a topical question on the letter from Labour MSP Mark Griffin, he said: “I do recognise the gravity of the financial challenge.

“I’m faced by that everyday in what I’m wrestling with in the Scottish budget just now, in dealing with the profound implications of inflation, public sector pay and energy costs and these will be felt by public bodies the length and breadth of the country.”

In response to the council finance directors’ request on Barnett consequentials spending, he said: “If I followed that, that would mean there wouldn’t be any extra money to the health service. Now I don’t for a minute believe that’s Mr Griffin’s position.

“I can’t do everything that’s asked of me in this letter because it would be impractical for me to do so. It would starve the health service of resources.”