Nicola Sturgeon grilled on IndyRef2 spending by Douglas Ross
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It comes as the Scottish government intends to bring the “overall size of the public sector workforce” back to pre-pandemic levels, mainly targeting workers at the health and education front line. Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has estimated this reform to cause around 17,000 job cuts over the next four to five years, according to the Herald.
Although, according to official records, the number of people employed in the public sector went from 505,200 in December 2019 to 534,400 by December 2021, a difference of almost 30,000.
This number could spike to up to 40,000 job cuts, causing strong backlash with widespread strike actions across the country, trade unions have warned.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said the job cuts will be part of a “reset” that comes “after years of growth in the public sector, due to Brexit and the pandemic”.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon blamed Brexit and the UK Conservative government for Scotland’s financial struggle.
Ms Sturgeon said: “As a result of United Kingdom Government decisions, our budget this year has been cut by more than 5 percent in real terms, and growth in our budget over the next four years will be constrained to 2 percent, while inflation is close to 10 percent.
“Of course, thanks to the folly of Brexit, inflation is higher in the UK than it is in any other G7 country.”
Economist David Phillips, associate director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, warned that the public sector reform could mean axing as many as one in eight public sector staff.
He said this move will have strong implications on service delivery and quality, particularly in the health and education sectors.
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Mr Phillips told The Herald on Sunday: “Cutting employment by 7 percent will be very, very challenging given that taken together, the NHS and teachers will make up close to half of that number.
“And cutting employment in the NHS will be tough given rising demands for health services, and there are pledges for more, not fewer, teachers.
“So if we assume there are no net changes in NHS and teacher employment, other devolved public employment might need to be cut by the equivalent of 13 percent.”
The announcement sparked a strong reaction from the opposition, with the Scottish Conservative shadow finance and economy secretary Liz Smith calling out the government for inducing a “black hole” in finances.
She said: “It was inevitable that jobs would be lost as a result of the £3.5bn black hole in public finances which has resulted from the SNP’s mismanagement of the economy.
“The SNP admits 17,000 jobs will go as the price of ministers’ ineptitude while unions and expert analysts think it will be worse than that.
“These people, many of whom will work in frontline services upon which we all rely– teaching assistants, social workers, emergency workers – deserve better than to be tossed aside due to the Scottish Government’s inability to balance the books.”
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