Scottish Government reveals budget underspend of almost £340m

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The Scottish Government had an overall budget underspend of almost £340 million last year, an official report has revealed.

Ministers have published the Government’s consolidated accounts for 2017-18, showing £339 million had not been used by the end of the financial year – the equivalent of 0.97% of the overall budget.

Public Finance Minister Kate Forbes insisted the report shows the Government has a “firm grip on public finances”.

But Labour said the underspend had increased from £85 million in 2016-17, as it accused the Government of being too timid.

Although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made clear closing the attainment gap is her number one priority, the figures show an underspend of £115 million in education in 2017-18.

The health and sport portfolio underspent by £34 million, and communities, social securities and equalities spent £37 million less than it had been allocated. For the rural economy and connectivity unit, there was a £74 million underspend.

Labour finance spokesman James Kelly said: “These figures show just how timid the SNP is when it comes to stopping the cuts and ending Tory austerity.

“In the week where we learned that life expectancy has fallen for the first time in 35 years in Scotland, and crime has risen, the SNP should be doing everything it can to improve the lives of people in Scotland.

“But rather than using the money available to them, SNP ministers have simply sat on their hands and done nothing while services suffer.

“The fact there is a £115 million underspend on education, while schools are in crisis and pupils are being failed, is simply unacceptable and will rightly anger parents across the country.”

The Government’s accounts show an underspend of £287 million in the day to day resources budget, with a further underspend of £52 million in its capital budget.

Ms Forbes said: “For the 13th consecutive year, the Scottish Government has demonstrated that we have a firm grip on public finances.

“We continue to operate in a challenging financial climate with substantial pressure on Scotland’s public finances, and increasing uncertainty of the impact of Brexit on our finances, and the Auditor General has once again given our accounts a clean bill of health.

“Under the current devolution settlement, the Scottish Government is not permitted to overspend its budget.

“As a consequence, we have consistently adopted a position of controlling expenditure to ensure we live within the budget caps that apply, while maximising spending on public services.

“Any money which is underspent in a financial year is carried forward in full into the next year and is invested in public services.”

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