AS I SEE IT: The Finance Secretary is running out of excuses, says TERRY MURDEN
Kate Forbes must be wishing her maternity leave had kicked in more quickly. This is a week that can’t end soon enough for Scotland’s Finance Secretary. After suffering a mauling over her government’s mishandling of the Clyde ferries contract she was hurriedly trying to claim that her team had beaten Chancellor Rishi Sunak into introducing a 19% income tax rate. Well, yes, it did. But only for those on the lowest band.
Professional number crunchers from Aegon, Brewin Dolphin, PwC and the Chartered Institute of Taxation noted that Mr Sunak’s promise to cut 1p off income tax by 2024 would leave almost all Scots paying more than the rest of the UK unless the Scottish Government followed suit. Trouble is, Ms Forbes has pledged to freeze rates and bands of income tax for the duration of the 2021-26 Scottish Parliament. As things stand it will mean the SNP going into the next election in four years time as the party of high taxes.
Devolution was never meant to be like this. Liberated from Westminster servitude, Holyrood was free to devise industrial and tax policy best suited to Scotland. It’s handling of the CalMac ferries order and its imposition of a tax regime that locks Scots into paying uncompetitive rates of income tax compared with other British workers suggests it is not going to plan.
Auditor General Stephen Boyle did not hold back in his assessment of ministerial behaviour around the Ferguson Marine embarrassment. A ‘multitude of failings’ is about as bad as it gets. His report read like a cleaned-up version after the expletives had been removed in order for it to be palatable to those of a nervous disposition.
Instead of trying to defend the indefensible Ms Forbes would have been best advised to hold up her hands and admit the government screwed up.
It requires a root and branch review of how ministers and their advisers – understandably keen to save jobs and struggling firms – regularly manage to make matters worse, or at least fail to reach a satisfactory outcome. Prestwick airport? BiFab?
Tory transport spokesman Graham Simpson is calling for a public inquiry. But if the never-ending Edinburgh trams inquiry is anything to go by, this would merely mean throwing more good money after bad. The length of time that such investigations take means that by the time a ferries inquiry has concluded those close to the debacle will probably have moved on, including Ms Forbes who will have more maternal matters to think about.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business