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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 16:37 GMT
Public savings plan criticised
Pound coins
The executive plans to make savings
An influential group of MSPs has accused the Scottish Executive of under-funding councils.

It is one of a number of criticisms levelled at ministers by members of Holyrood's finance committee.

The criticism comes in the committee's report on the executive's 27bn draft budget for next year.

Convenor Des McNulty said there were concerns that the increase in funding being planned for Scottish local authorities is too small.

There was also criticism of Finance Minister Tom McCabe's claim that more than 400m can be obtained from efficiency savings.

'Misleading figures'

The committee's report raises concerns over triple-counting, expressing "regret" at the executive's decision to highlight a cumulative total of 1.7bn as its headline figure in the Efficient Government announcement.

That sum, representing the total savings to be achieved over three years, was also expressed as a percentage of the single-year budget for 2004-05 - a presentation which the MSPs say was "misleading".

It also says ministers have not justified treating local authorities differently by taking account of their proposed cash savings in their budget allocations while funding rises for executive departments and agencies are unaffected.

Since economic growth is stated to be the executive's top priority, we believe that consideration should be given to setting some kind of strategic target
Des McNulty
Finance committee

Mr McNulty, a Labour MSP, said MSPs had "difficulty in reconciling" the executive's claims made in the Efficient Government document.

"Our committee expressed concern about the presentation of this information and argued that any comparisons made, for example with the Gershon review, should be on a like-for-like basis and over the same period," he said.

"The committee is concerned about the low levels of projected increases in local government AEF (aggregate external finance), especially towards the end of the spending review period.

"It also highlighted the fact that local government was treated differently in setting efficiency targets and argued for similar treatment in future."

The report on the executive's draft 2005/06 budget also echoes long-standing calls for the devolved administration to set targets for economic growth in Scotland, using comparative figures as benchmarks for improvement.

Mr McNulty said: "Since economic growth is stated to be the executive's top priority, we believe that consideration should be given to setting some kind of strategic target, which need not be a percentage but could draw on comparative indicators."

The full Scottish Parliament is due to debate the committee's report on 23 December.

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