“At long last, the Scottish Government have admitted our heroic NHS workers will be getting this money [the £500 thank-you payment] thanks to the UK Government’s huge increases in spending," Scottish Conservative shadow health spokesperson Donald Cameron.


To pay these well-deserved bonuses, the Scottish Government is using a contingency fund supplied as a result of Barnett consequentials derived from English spending increases. However, the payment was created by the Scottish Government, using funds that the UK Government has borrowed. An independent Scotland with its own borrowing powers could still make these payments. The Tories in London are not to thank. 


At the SNP conference in November, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a £500 "thank-you" payment to NHS and adult social care workers, as a Christmas bonus in appreciation of their work during the pandemic emergency. She asked the UK Treasury to exempt this bonus from taxation but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, refused.

Recently, former Labour MSP and GP Dr Richard Simpson OBE used the Freedom of Information legislation to ask where in the Holyrood budget the bonus cash was coming from? He also asked “which services would be cut” as a result?

According to subsequent reports: “Nicola Sturgeon’s £500 bonus for NHS workers is being funded from an emergency extra health grant provided by the UK Government to tackle Covid-19. The First Minister unveiled the £180 million pledge at the SNP’s virtual party conference in November but has faced a backlash.”

READ MORE: FACT CHECK: Tory excuses over £500 NHS bonus simply don't add up

Under FOI rules, the Scottish Government is obliged to publish replies on its website. The reply was actually published on the ScotGov website on December 18, 2020.

The actual ScotGov reply reads in part: “The Scottish Government has been provided with £8.2 billion of Covid consequential support, which is allocated in Scotland according to need. The non-consolidated bonus has been funded from these consequentials via the overarching health allocation. Necessary funding is being made available to NHS Boards.”

The reply goes on: “Circa £330 million of funding has been allocated as contingency...” The bonus is covered by this contingency.

In other words, nothing has been cut from existing services and nothing has been diverted from fighting the Covid-19 emergency.

The National:


Should the bonus money have been spent on something else, as Dr Simpson implies?

Health is a labour-intensive sector. As a result, in 2018-19, wages represented 53 per cent of all Scottish NHS revenue expenditure. As such, any increase in spending for the Scottish NHS (via normal or emergency Treasury grants) is bound to go in large measure to salaries.

The exact distribution of the increase in the salary bill (though wage rises, overtime payments, bigger staffing compliment, bonuses, or all four) is a political decision. But it is nonsense to argue that extra funding for the Scottish NHS during the pandemic going to salaries is somehow unusual or a misappropriation.


In response to the FOI, Scottish Conservative shadow health spokesperson Donald Cameron (educated at Harrow and Oxford), said: “Nicola Sturgeon tried to play politics with this payment and her stunt completely backfired.

"At long last, the Scottish Government have admitted our heroic NHS workers will be getting this money thanks to the UK Government’s huge increases in spending.”

Cameron (below) is open to the charge of being hypocritical by claiming that the NHS bonus is only thanks to UK Government spending while simultaneously denouncing the bonus as a “stunt”.

He is also being misleading by implying the cash is somehow a beneficial gift from the UK Treasury.

The National:

On June 16, 2015, SNP MPs at Westminster put down amendments to the Budget Bill demanding that the Scottish Government at Holyrood be given full fiscal freedom to raise taxes and set spending. These amendments were both voted down by 309 votes to 60. The Westminster Tories cannot refuse fiscal autonomy to Holyrood and then claim credit for funding Scottish public spending as if they were making a gift.

Next, Scottish Government funding is partly based on home-generated income and partly on an annual Treasury grant. The latter is based on the so-called Barnett Formula whereby spending increases allected to England are passed on automatically to Scotland according to a formula based on population.

READ MORE: Jeane Freeman hits out at UK Government’s 'political game' over Covid vaccine roll-out

Latterly, after devolution, these Barnett “consequentials” are governed by a complex formula that deducts earned income tax revenues generated in Scotland. Nevertheless, the substance of the Barnett system remains: if English ministers decree an increase in English departmental spending, a similar proportion by population is allocated to Scotland.

Any subvention to Scotland under the Barnett Formula (as per the increase in NHS spending under discussion here) is not a “gift” nor is it decided by Westminster “for Scotland”. It is an automatic consequence of an English spending decision.

Mr Cameron is wrong to imply that somehow the Westminster Tories were being kind to Scotland or Scottish NHS workers.


Finally, the extra money being spent by the UK Treasury does not come from borrowing. It is actually being created electronically by the Bank of England.

Inferring that the resulting Barnett consequentials represent some generous sacrifice towards Scotland on behalf of the Chancellor is absurd. If anything, the Chancellor could easily use the same method to fund wage increases for all frontline workers across the UK.


The Tories are at once trying to attack the payment and take credit for it, but any claims Scottish workers are getting a £500 gift "thanks to the UK Government" is misleading.