Scotland facing ageing timebomb

Scotland could face a “cycle of cuts and crises” if politicians fail to plan properly for the future, Labour has warned.

Action is needed to help public services adapt to the increasing number of elderly people, party finance spokesman Ken Macintosh said.

He spoke out about the “challenges facing our public authorities” as a result of that, and told MSPs: “There is simply not enough long-term planning taking place in our public authorities.

“It is very difficult to break the short-term political cycle but if those of us who are part of supposedly social democratic parties cannot agree on a long-term strategy to help our public services adapt, then we will find ourselves descending into a cycle of cuts and crises.”

One of the challenges highlighted was the need to adapt housing stock to make it more suitable for groups such as elderly people, but the housing budget was cut last year and will be cut again next year, Mr Macintosh said.

A “serious and informed debate about the way we deliver public services” is required.

When Labour raised this issue, when leader Johann Lamont questioned the long-term affordability of a number of services, it was “caricatured as some sort of attack on universalism”, he said.

To tackle the problem, Mr Macintosh stressed the importance of “moving on from reports such as this which highlight the extent of the problem, to the Scottish Government laying out what it sees as the potential solutions”.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said the Scottish Government has outlined a set of interventions to provide the necessary changes to services.

“The Government has set out a clear, consistent and decisive course to put Scotland’s public services on a stable footing,” he said.

“We have been clear that the existing model of service provision will have to change, and we have advanced in a whole variety of different areas, initiatives that will ensure that change is undertaken and public services are made sustainable for the future.

“Projected increases in demand, the financial horizon along with the crucial need to drive up outcomes for all and reduce inequalities, provide a compelling backdrop for the change I have just talked about.”

Some change is structural, such as the move to merge police and fire services, while elsewhere new ways of working are being adopted, using existing resources and expertise.

“I recognise that delivering such change is rarely easy or straightforward,” Mr Swinney told MSPs.

“Improvement in practice is all about implementation and requires bold decisions and collaborative action.

“Despite the financial context in which we now operate, we are seeing progress being made now across Scotland.”