The National:


Nicola Sturgeon failed to pass on the full Barnett consequentials to the NHS … so we now face the twin challenges of recovering from the very immediate crisis created by Covid-19, while restoring our NHS after a decade of mounting problems and underfunding” – Jackie Baillie, Labour health spokesperson, commentating on IFS paper published on April 14.


Public spending per head in Scotland is £7612, which is around 27% higher than the £5971 in England.  This is because the SNP government has mounted a strong defence of public spending while the Tory government imposed a decade of austerity.


On April 14, the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) in London published a briefing paper entitled Public service spending in Scotland: trends and key issues. The brief is only 27 pages long, plus.  It is written by David Phillips (an adviser to the Finance & Constitution Committee of the Scottish Parliament) and Ben Zaranko, who finished his Master's Degree in economics only last year.

The IFS paper is one of a steady stream of “briefings” the IFS gives to keep its activities prominent in the media – especially during elections. In a press statement accompanying this latest paper, Zaranko claimed that the SNP Government had placed “relatively more priority on other services” than on NHS spending, including adult social care, early years and higher education.

The release of the paper was followed by attacks from opposition politicians. Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie (below) said: “Nicola Sturgeon failed to pass on the full Barnett consequentials to the NHS when she was Health Minister so we now face the twin challenges of recovering from the very immediate crisis created by Covid-19, while restoring our NHS after a decade of mounting problems and underfunding.”

The National: Jackie Baillie MSP


The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) is an independent economic research body that specialises in taxation and public spending. It was founded in 1965 by a group of right-wing City bankers and investment managers who wanted to criticise the economic policy of the then Labour Government. The IFS is funded from a range of sources. Today the biggest element of its income comes from grants from the UK Government.

The new IFS briefing note covers all aspects of public spending in Scotland but focuses most on the NHS because it is the largest area of spending in both Scotland and England.  The paper notes that spending on the NHS in Scotland is now a smaller share of overall identifiable public spending: just under 22% as opposed to just over 25% in England. This is the shift being criticised by opposition politicians.

However, the first thing to note is that real-terms health spending per person in Scotland in 2019−20 is now two-thirds (68%) above its 1999−2000 level – a major increase.  And while the extra spent per head in Scotland compared with England is smaller than it was 20 years ago, people north of the Border still enjoy a 3% advantage per head compared with those down south.

READ MORE: Institute for Fiscal Studies turns focus to Holyrood for the first time

There has been a significant cash increase in NHS spending in England in the past two decades, which can be seen as a desperate attempt to catch up with spending levels in Scotland. This extra spending results in a Barnett consequential for Holyrood. So why has the relative (but not the absolute) gap in NHS spending narrowed between Scotland and England?  As the IFS paper explains, this reflects the decision by the SNP Government to use part of the Barnett cash to raise spending in other critical areas such as on early years provision and social care services to meet the needs of an elderly population.

Nevertheless, the IFS paper claims that there has been a significant rise in spending provision in Scotland in areas apart from the NHS.  For example, spending per person on education is now 28% higher than in England, up from just 5% higher in 2009.  However, this shift in relative spending is less the result of Barnett cash being switched to education from health and more to do with huge cuts being made to education in England as a result of Tory austerity policy.  Since 2015−16, education spending per person rose by 6% in Scotland (mostly for early years) but cratered by 6% in England.

Again, spending on adult social services has risen sharply relative to England.  It is now 43% higher per capita, compared with 27% higher in 1999−2000.  This reflects the Scottish policy of free personal care for the elderly – a policy which can reasonably be counted as part of a wider definition of health care than used in England.  On this evidence, there is no justification for claiming Barnett NHS consequentials have been syphoned off for political gain, which was the spin put on the IFS report by Jackie Baillie.


The IFS paper also criticises the Scottish Government for failing to provide value for money.  For instance, it says: “Despite substantially higher spending on higher education to underwrite tuition-free HE for undergraduates, the share of 18-year-olds entering HE has grown more slowly in Scotland than in England.”

Education statistics are always complicated to decode because of the data using incompatible age ranges and institutions.  However, the number of young people (as a percentage of their age cohort) in HE and FE in Scotland continues to be higher than in England, by some 5 percentage points.  The incomplete data presented in the IFS report undercounts the larger numbers involved in FE in Scotland.  This is a regular weakness in Scotland-England comparisons, where English observers often fail to comprehend that a greater proportion of young people in Scotland take technical qualifications in the FE sector.

However, the IFS writers admit that the Scottish NHS has been closer to meeting its target of admitting or discharging 95% of visitors to A&E within 4 hours (84% in December 2019) than the English NHS (80%).


 The IFS numbers are relatively factual.  However, the IFS writers worry that the Scottish Government has pursued different spending priorities than Westminster. But surely that is what devolution was for?

The National: National Fact Check Mixed