NUMBERS, numbers, numbers. Unless you spend your life immersed in macroeconomic policy it can be hard to know if Rishi Sunak’s not-a-budget was a triumph or a dud. Obviously, there were eye-catching handouts aplenty, from the Eat Out to Help Out voucher to the Kickstart scheme to help young people into jobs. And of course, Sunak himself is Tory charm personified. Boris watch your back.

But it’s a strange situation.

You get the feeling political opponents are listening to what would’ve been a radical left-wing budget if delivered by a Labour Government in pre-Covid days, and trying hard to pick holes in it.

Sure, they could have spent more.

Sure, the total spend is not as big per capita as Germany.

And as the SNP has pointed out, Sunak didn’t introduce a real living wage, increase Universal Credit payments for families with children or boost NHS or social care spending to Scottish levels.

But then again, they are Tories. Did anyone expect real compassion for the poor?

Perhaps, though, there is another question that helps us assess the likely success of Rishi’s Big Spend. Is it enough to cancel out Boris’s Multiple Big Fails?

Just after the Chancellor’s statement I was listening to BBC Radio 5 Live when a tired Tory appeared and started reading out pre-prepared instructions. I was about to switch off when he said with a flourish: “We’ve already saved lives, now we’ll save livelihoods.”

The presenter wasn’t a news specialist – it’s a mid-afternoon, easy-listening spot. Yet he snapped back immediately: “But you haven’t saved lives, have you?”

There was an embarrassed silence. This is the inconvenient truth for the Chancellor. Trust in his Government’s motives and capacity have collapsed during the Covid crisis, and that could see Sunak’s spending statement unravel, and create another important point of distinction for the Scottish Government.

Essentially, Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson are trying to coax consumers back into pubs, restaurants, cinemas and attractions by dangling cash. The VAT cut and the voucher will indeed make going out cheaper, but do English voters trust that it’s safe to go out and live it up while the failure to control Covid, get PPE to frontline staff and schools back safely are all so fresh in people’s minds?

Witness the general fury yesterday about Johnson’s attempt to shift blame for elderly deaths in England on to care home staff, and the Tories’ intention to re-impose hospital parking charges on NHS staff once the Covid crisis is under control.

Folk aren’t having it. They haven’t forgiven or forgotten. And they aren’t missing the bad news in England’s daily statistics.

The virus is five times more prevalent in England than Scotland, and folk everywhere know that. Just last night, a hospital in the PM’s own constituency had to close for emergency admissions after a Covid outbreak amongst staff.

The failure to be heading for elimination of the virus in England means lower levels of consumer and citizen confidence south of the Border, and that matters hugely because it’s consumer confidence that gets economies up and running again – allied with government investment through a truly bold and green economic restructuring plan.

Now maybe the Chancellor will surprise everyone by producing just such a plan next time around in the Budget. But can he restore trust? Can he replace lost confidence in Johnson as Prime Minister? Can he erase his Government’s shambolic handling of the Covid crisis? He may look and sound convincing at the despatch box, but even Rishi Sunak can’t perform miracles.

It’s two weeks since non-essential shops were allowed to open in England, and retailers are still reporting footfall 50% down on last year. Similarly, when the bars of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester re-opened last weekend, the predicted droves didn’t materialise.

No matter how much the smooth-talking Sunak nudges, encourages and talks of his own generosity as Chancellor, consumer confidence is badly shaken.

READ MORE: Scottish finance secretary calls for fiscal powers to be devolved

And there’s another massive problem – the Kickstart scheme doesn’t seem to be open to the very youngsters it professes to help.

Kickstart will offer six-month work placements, funded by the UK Government, to people aged 16 to 24 throughout the UK as long as they’re in receipt of Universal Credit. Grand, except you can’t claim Universal Credit unless you’re aged 18 or over (effectively 19), which rules out school leavers.

Nice one.

Like so many of the British Government’s much-trumpeted schemes and proposals, Rishi Sunak’s training centrepiece suffers from a lack of attention to detail.

But that presents the Scottish Government with a real opportunity. Currently, responsibility for training is split between the two governments – 16-19 is a Scottish Government responsibility; 19-25 is a British Government responsibility. It’s a nonsense.

So, the Scottish Government could solve many problems by asking the Chancellor to devolve all youth training powers so that Scotland runs the lot.

That way, apart from avoiding obvious pitfalls like the Universal Credit barrier, the Scottish Government could continue to support local, bespoke providers of training likely to be excluded by the Department for Work and Pensions because of its preference for large single training contracts.

Take the award-winning Scottish project Working Rite, set up in 2007. I still remember hearing about its first training success from founder Leith-based Sandy Campbell.

He’d placed an apparently “hopeless” young man, expelled from school and unable to read and write properly, with two local plasterers. They got on like a house on fire with young Craig – and even helped him find a new flat when his mother died.

Why did it work? Well, Campbell had spotted they were all fitba crazy and the plasterers even taught Craig to read using the football pages of newspapers. A decade later, Craig’s running his own plastering business and has settled down with a partner.

What distinguishes this scheme is a determination to place teenagers on their own in local small businesses. The aim, according to Campbell, is to “spark a relationship with somebody outside their generation and family who’ll give them an idea of what it’s like to be an adult”.

It works. An astonishing 80% of youngsters who complete the course go on to a full-time job or apprenticeship.

So is Working Rite likely to get any Kickstart cash?

Well, the exclusion of 16 to 19-year-olds is one problem, and the need for youngsters to apply is another. Working Rite works with grassroots organisations to find kids least likely to attend job centres and least savvy with computers and bureaucratic processes. These youngsters then spend three to four weeks on an induction course about the basic behaviour needed for a workplace before the 12 weeks of hand-picked work placements begin.

Will such a very careful organisation look like too much trouble for the “one-size-fits-all” British Government?

Probably. Which is a terrible shame because a scheme like this – properly run by a trusted government – is desperately needed in Scotland right now.

So it’s time for the Scottish Government to go straight back to the Tories and ask for the powers to deliver this in Scotland themselves.

It’s called making the best of a bad job.