Jim O’Neill turns his gaze back to the failings of the SNP government, with the Auditor General highlighting the funding crisis in social work and failure on farm payments while the public accounts show a huge underspend.
Having written about the co-operative movement and the Labour Party in the first two pieces after my holiday, I feel it is time to return to my favourite subject – holding the Scottish Government to account. I have been accused in the past of unfair criticism or even using biased sources, but this week it is the Auditor General for Scotland who has spoken out in her annual audit of government spending.
In the past, mention has been made of the crisis in social work, which I have put down to the misguided decision of the government to freeze council tax, while failing to put anything else in its place. Now the Auditor General has drawn attention to this crisis which, she too puts down to a lack of funding. It is not the Auditor General’s role to comment on government policy decisions, but we all know that the austerity policies of the SNP have starved local government of funds, causing the loss of thousands of jobs and key services, and creating burgeoning case loads for overworked social workers. This has put at risk many children and vulnerable adults in our society. No wonder social workers have a historically high absence rate.
At the same time the Auditor General has noted that the farm payments crisis will take a long time to resolve, and that Fergus Ewing’s solution, giving loans to farmers, will cause the departmental budget to overrun. Indeed, she predicts that the loan funding will run out before the technical problems that shut the scheme down are resolved. This is not Scottish Government money. It is a European fund which the government administers. At the last election it was promised that this project would have the utmost priority. Clearly the same priority that a replacement for the Council Tax had!
And all this while the government underspent its budget by £400m, at a time when poverty is rising in our country and there are not enough fairly priced homes for our families. How is this fighting the Tories’ austerity project? Maybe it is time that Nicola spent less time talking up Indyref 2 and concentrated on her day job, focusing on delivering services to the Scottish people?
Two other stories caught my attention over the last week. Steven Paterson, the SNP MP for Stirling, last year’s fifth most expensive MP, has been forced to pay back £40 that he claimed from his Parliamentary expenses for care of his dog. What bit of the expenses crisis did he not understand? I suppose that it is just as well he doesn’t have pet ducks!
But the most heartening story of the week was the success of the so-called third force in Parliament forcing a rethink by the Government on the closure of various parts of our NHS. I seem to remember a great hoo-ha by the SNP when Labour were in power and consulted on closing some A&E wards. Indeed, as soon as they came into power, the SNP made much of stopping the closures and saving A&E. This time not one SNP member supported Anas Sarwar’s motion opposing the current closure proposals. My my, how times have changed!
And I haven’t even mentioned the Dundee MP who is helping police with their enquiries, nor the actual charging of Natalie McGarry with fraud. It is only a few weeks since someone in the SNP was spinning that McGarry was about to be reinstated to the party whip and the SNP-supporting Sunday Herald says that Michelle Thompson’s return to the whip has been “parked”. Methinks that neither will be happening anytime soon either.
So we are back to pointing out the failings of the SNP government. There are so many to choose from!