The Daily Telegraph

SNP’S ‘savings’ exclude £20million for referendum

- By Simon Johnson and Daniel Sanderson

NICOLA STURGEON’S deputy has refused to touch £20million allocated for a second independen­ce referendum despite unveiling more than half a billion pounds of cuts to Scotland’s public services.

John Swinney outlined £560.4million of “savings” that he said were required to meet rising public sector pay demands, which have been fuelled by double-digit inflation.

He said “hard choices” were required to balance the books and help Scots through the cost of living crisis, and the cuts represente­d “the harsh reality” of Holyrood having a “fixed budget and limited powers”.

Among the cuts he announced were £53million for employabil­ity support designed to help people back into work, £42.7million for education and skills, £33 million for agricultur­e and £120million of capital spending on new public buildings and roads.

But he refused to touch £20million allocated next year to staging another independen­ce referendum, arguing this was “necessary to ensure Scotland can decide our own future and get out of this”. The Scottish Tories attacked the SNP’S “skewed, self-serving priorities”, with Ms Sturgeon’s government protecting “spending on their pet obsession” while insisting they have no choice but to cut public services.

This came as Ms Sturgeon was also accused of squanderin­g taxpayers’ money after it emerged more than £130,000 is to be spent assembling an all-female panel to talk about their “lived experience” of being a woman.

The group of 20 women will offer advice to Ms Sturgeon’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls, which is made up of 16 other women, even though the group submitted its final report in March last year and now has a remit of scrutinisi­ng delivery of previous recommenda­tions.

Opposition parties have criticised Mr Swinney for continuing to “peddle the line” that the Scottish Government has provided £3billion of public support for the cost of living crisis after Holyrood researcher­s found less than a sixth of the money was new.

He took an axe to spending the day after Ms Sturgeon disclosed that surging inflation meant the Scottish Government’s budget was worth £1.7billion less than when it was published last December, with public sector pay deals costing £700million more than predicted.

In a statement at Holyrood, Mr Swinney said support schemes for Ukrainian refugees had also resulted in unbudgeted costs of £200million.

“The Scottish budget is at the absolute limits of affordabil­ity. Difficult choices must be made,” the Deputy First Minister said.

Mr Swinney argued that axing the £20 million independen­ce referendum budget would not help as the funds were allocated for 2023-24 but the spending cuts needed to be made in the current financial year.

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