It’s the SNP conference this week so I was expecting the usual political spin and tenuous association with the facts that are inherent in these types of things. Even I was impressed by the SNP on this occasion, though. The conference hadn’t even started and John Swinney was misleading the electorate on Radio 4’s Today programme.
Someone re-tweeted it onto my timeline and it immediately looked wrong. I’ll come back to the performance of the NHS another time but the first part of the tweet stands out – “NHS budget is £3billion higher than when the SNP came to power”.
This is intended to be an eye-grabbing statistic proving how much the SNP value the NHS. Vote for us because we put more money into the health service.
Except that it’s not true.
The health budget for the Scottish Government in 2006-07, the last year under the previous Labour / LibDem coalition was £9.1 billion (source). For the latest figures available from the SNP’s time in charge, 2013-14, the spend is now £11.4 billion (source).
£11.4bn – £9.1bn = £2.3bn. Or 24% less than Mr Swinney says.
EDIT – it’s been pointed out that the proposed 2015-16 Scottish NHS budget is £12.1bn which is where Swinney gets the £3bn figure. This is a reasonable point although it’s worth noting that we won’t know the actual spend until March 2017 when the GERS figures for that financial year are released and, as per the following, this is still “nominal” spend and not real terms. If you look at the screenshot from the ScotGov website below, real terms spend is projected to decrease from the 2014 figures.
So what, you might ask. Increasing by £2.4 billion is still an impressive feat, particularly in these “austere times” – a 25% increase. Except that it isn’t a 25% increase at all because Mr Swinney is employing the old politician’s trick of using cash values rather than “real terms” which adjusts the spend for inflation.
I don’t want to incur any accusations of bias in working out the real terms spend myself so instead I will use this Scottish Government page. There are two small problems here:
- This page shows spending for “Health & Wellbeing” rather than just “Health” spending which is recorded in GERS. The former exceeds the latter (in cash terms) by between £208m in 2009-10; and £359m in 2013-14.
- It only goes back as far as 2008-09 so I don’t have real terms figures for the first two years of SNP government, but I’ll come onto that.
Regardless, I think they’ll make a useful comparison. If you want to suggest alternative figures then please let me know.
So in real terms, the SNP have only increased NHS spending by £0.3 billion from 2008 to 2014 (the next two years are projected spend). 10% of what Mr Swinney would have you believe, not so impressive.
And it gets worse if you look at the percentage of expenditure in Scotland which is spent on health. Again, this is using the Scottish Government’s own GERS figures.
The Scottish Government have been reducing the proportion of public spending which is assigned to the NHS. Remember that the NHS is fully devolved, Holyrood is entirely responsible for deciding its budget.
Let’s not forget, though, that there was a financial crash in 2008, one of the worst ever experienced in this country. Budgets have been slashed and belts tightened. For comparison, therefore, this is the percentage of public spend in England spent on the NHS.
It’s worth bearing in mind here that Scotland still spends more per capita on health than England. We always have. This is down to a number of factors ranging from sparser population density, to geographical considerations, an older demographic, poorer health including higher levels of smoking and alcohol consumption, etc etc. It is this higher level of spending that creates our significantly higher deficit despite more or less equitable onshore revenue per capita and why that oil revenue is very far from being “just a bonus”.
What is relevant to this article is that the SNP have failed to increase NHS spending in line with the increases of the Conservative / LibDem coalition in England; and remembering that increases to health budgets in England result in a proportionate increase to the Barnett allocations for that department, it’s difficult to accept Mr Swinney’s claim that all consequentials for health are passed on.
And all this whilst the vagaries of the Barnett Formula mean that Scotland’s budget is cut less than budgets in England (NB – these are cash values, not real terms. For details on real terms “cuts” to Scotland’s budget, I can recommend this)
So not only is Mr Swinney’s assertion that the “NHS budget is £3 billion higher than when SNP came to power” an attempt to fudge the stats somewhat, the obvious inference that the SNP are protecting health budgets is also very wrong.