Public Services Reform 'Needed Amid Budget Cuts'

23 February 2016, 07:11 | Updated: 23 February 2016, 07:12

A major shake-up of public services is needed in the wake of the "huge challenges'' the next Scottish Government will face from budget cuts, a think tank has urged.

IPPR Scotland warned day-to-day spending could be down by 5.6% in real terms by 2019-20.

With the Scottish Government having pledged to increase funding for childcare and to protect areas such as the NHS from cuts, the think tank warned by 2020 other, non-protected departments could see spending fall by as much as 16%.

Cuts to non-protected departments will total more than £2.3 billion a year by 2019-20, the think tank claimed, saying spending on these areas will fall by 5.4% in 2016-17.

With the budget for the coming year to be approved by MSPs on Wednesday, IPPR Scotland said spending on legal aid will drop by 8.9% in real terms while money for councils will fall by 7.2%.

Fire services face a real-terms cut of 6.3%, with university spending set to drop by 5.9%.

IPPR Scotland director Russell Gunson said cuts of this scale would require "significant reform'' in how public services are paid for and delivered.

With new tax and welfare powers being devolved to Holyrood, he also said there should be a "significant debate'' about the kind of systems that should be established.

Mr Gunson said: "Scotland's public spending challenge is a huge one, with billions of pounds of cuts to spending coming over the next four years.

"With the decision to protect health, police and commitments to double the provision of free childcare, other departments will take the strain.

"We estimate non-protected departments in Scotland will face cuts of 16% by 2020, worth over £2.3 billion a year in real terms.

"This will be a huge challenge for the next Scottish Government, particularly as it comes on the back of five years of cuts already.

"It's clear that spending cuts of this scale will require significant reform of how we deliver and fund public services, and an equally significant debate about what type of tax and benefits system we want to build in Scotland.

"Without reform, and careful thought, we could spend the next few years simply attempting to mitigate the effects of cuts on the most vulnerable in Scotland rather than actively building the fairer and more equal Scotland we want to see.''