GUEST COLUMNIST: Don’t mention the estimates

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Having sat through 16 years of council finance reports, and having acted as a director to several companies and charitable bodies in that time, I cannot believe what happens with the equivalent financial management of the Westminster Government.

The “estimates” debates are three days in each Parliamentary session set aside for considering part of the £600 billion Government expenditure. During these debates, members are encouraged to speak – so long as they don’t actually mention the estimates themselves!

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was satire, and should it be broadcast on Yes, Minister or The Thick Of It, you’d be right. But it isn’t satire, and if it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable. In fact my colleague, Pete Wishart MP, recently had himself ruled out of order for daring to talk about the estimates, in the estimates debate, when he wasn’t actually allowed to speak about the estimates … Are you following?

It doesn’t stop there, however. Given that the decisions are relating to multi-billion pounds worth of Government spending, they can either be approved in full, or can be brought to a vote to reduce them by... £1000. If no one wants to dent these huge sums of money by £1000, they are approved, without actually voting. Democracy, in its true form!

Although the repercussions of not having proper scrutiny are more far reaching than they would appear. In October last year, EVEL legislation was rushed through Parliament. During this, assurances were given that non-English MPs would be given the opportunity to scrutinise anything that meant the Barnett Consequentials were affected, thus Scotland’s budget, would be cut for devolved services. Only this month we, of course, find that route is also closed leaving us nowhere to go to debate and consider this critical part of our devolved budget.

In the past if Government spending was reduced in health (think privatisation of the English NHS) we would oppose this and vote against. Because of EVEL we no longer are allowed to do this and therefore can’t address these Barnett consequentials in legislation that is now certified English only.

Scottish MPs are, therefore, locked out of English-only legislation without opportunity to consider our share of departmental spend in English departments. Scottish MPs are becoming disenfranchised from having a say on a large section of the Scottish budget.

It’s almost like the first rule of Fight Club, we don’t talk about the estimates, even although the very same issues could have devastating effects on Scotland’s budget. If it isn’t clear enough already, this monument to arcane procedure and ridiculous non-democracy we have in Westminster, needs reformed and modernising. Without this, it’s guaranteed to keep failing the people it is meant to serve.