A decade of waste which is taxing the public’s patience

HOW many of us wake up in the small hours and agonise about whether Scotland’s ‘professional puppetry community’ has enough cash?

Probably very few, and yet this is one of the causes that merited taxpayer funding of £222,000, helping it to thrive as a ‘subversive art form’.

About £300,000 was spent on iPads and other hi-tech gadgets for children in Malawi (meanwhile some Scottish pupils are deprived of textbooks).

If your sleep is also interrupted by concern about whether the Muslim community is energy-efficient, worry no longer – the Climate Challenge Fund has it covered.

Nearly £76million has been ploughed into a range of initiatives to promote ‘low-carbon behaviour’, including £135,000 to encourage Muslims in Glasgow to increase energy efficiency in their homes.

Then there’s the £35million ‘baby box’ scheme, founded on the baffling notion that parents would be comfortable with their newborns nestled in cardboard cartons, rather than a more conventional Moses basket.

The really big public sector waste is counted in the millions, for example the Scottish Government’s purchase of money pit Prestwick Airport for £1 – a decision that could cost taxpayers up to £40million.

£222,000 of taxpayers’ cash — for Scotland’s “professional puppetry community”...

That’s not to mention the £15million of public cash written off as part of a failed bid to make Scotland the ‘wave power capital of the world’, or the £38million spent on sending patients to private hospitals to help meet waiting time targets.

Anyone who read our exposé of public sector waste yesterday will be well-tutored already in the majority of these findings, which of course come as Nicola Sturgeon proposes to mount another raid on pay-packets.

With a sense of timing that suggests the SNP has lost some of its presentational acumen, its tax plans were revealed just as interest rates were increased last week for the first time in more than a decade, pushing up mortgage repayments for millions.

Our dossier sent the nation’s blood pressure soaring yesterday – at least if social media is any barometer – and even those who wouldn’t regard themselves instinctively as Conservative tax-cutters were alarmed.

One reader said: ‘I’m an ordinary taxpayer about to be hammered again; seeing this list, I want more explanation’, while another said: ‘Raising taxes simply isn’t the answer. Sad that the SNP have squandered opportunity after opportunity to better Scotland.’

The wastage, estimated at more than £2billion, isn’t trivial – it shows a cavalier disregard for the taxpayer by a political elite that is insulated from the financial misery they are preparing to visit on the people who bankroll their cossetted lives.

And perhaps tax rises would be easier to swallow if it weren’t for the stark evidence of waste on a spectacular scale over the last decade.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay – a man most wouldn’t trust to buy a round at the bar let alone the run the economy – once described higher rate taxpayers as ‘rich’.

This came as something of a surprise to the senior nurses and teachers struggling to make ends meet.

All four scenarios put forward by Miss Sturgeon suggest increasing the 40p higher rate and 45p top rate of income tax in April next year, with three backing a penny increase on the basic 20p rate and a 50p top rate.

But the SNP’s proposals would result in those earning just over £24,000 paying more in tax, meaning basic rate taxpayers will be hit hard – so much for ‘progressive’ politics…

The Nationalists’ plans would contribute an additional £217million to public coffers, according to the most optimistic assessments – a sum that would be easily offset if just a fraction of the waste we uncovered had been avoided.

Confronted about the figures we published yesterday, the Scottish Government blamed the ‘serious economic threat of Brexit’, which has necessitated a ‘conversation’ about tax – albeit a fairly one-sided dialogue so far.

Sturgeon: The time is right — for a one-sided “conversation” on tax hikes…

It’s all the more galling for taxpayers, of course, to learn of the enormous sums invested in offshore tax havens, including £10million from the Queen’s fortune, as the so-called Paradise Papers have disclosed this week.

Miss Sturgeon is concerned about allegations of tax evasion, but insists that only independence would provide Scotland with the power to crack down on a problem the UK Government has failed to get under control.

With a net deficit of more than £13billion, Scotland following the break-up of the UK may well have more pressing problems, such as basic economic survival – while baby boxes, with their organic muslin squares and satin-edged blankets, would be a distant memory.

‘Free’ prescriptions have led to the taxpayer shelling out for Bonjela, bottles of Covonia chesty cough medicine and Nurofen lemon meltlets, at a time when patients are languishing on trolleys in hospital corridors.

Taxpayers are footing an annual bill of £1.3billion for more than 100million prescriptions dispensed in the community.

For ‘free’ personal care alone, the price-tag has risen sharply since it was introduced under Labour and the Lib Dems in 2002 – up from £132million to £500million.

These ‘free’ services are cited by the SNP as one of the main reasons for the tax hikes it proposes, but it’s not clear that there is overwhelming public support for them.

A Panelbase poll of 1,020 voters in Scotland earlier this year found that 53 per cent want to end the key SNP policy of ‘free’ university tuition, and think students should instead pay towards the cost of their tuition once they have finished their degrees and are earning.

Then there’s the cost of all those junkets including Miss Sturgeon’s £40,000 ego trip to the US earlier this year, the main accomplishment of which seemed to be a selfie with Hillary Clinton.

In 2012, almost half-a-million pounds of taxpayers’ cash was spent on a trip to the Ryder Cup in Chicago.

The entourage included 12 Government officials and 22 workers from publicly funded agencies (and Shona Robison, then in charge of sport and now allegedly running the NHS).

Perhaps the biggest waste of all was the £15.8million cost of the 2014 referendum, and the £800,000 blown on printing copies of the White Paper, the SNP’s vision of an independent Scotland – filed under ‘fiction’ in all good specialist bookshops.

So yes, Miss Sturgeon, let’s have that ‘conversation’ about taxes, but don’t insult our intelligence by telling us Brexit’s to blame.

We know these plans are the product of your squalid pact with the Greens, your party’s shameful economic illiteracy and its total indifference to the growing squeeze on family finances.

Most of all, don’t kid us that this extra cash will be used for schools and hospitals, which on your watch are facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions.

We know it will be funnelled into more giveaways, more globe-trotting, more vanity projects – and a deeply entrenched culture of public sector waste that renders the case for tax rises entirely redundant.

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Graham Grant.

Graham Grant.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper