THE WINNER of the Holyrood election next Thursday will have little scope for extra spending on education and other services in the coming years, experts warned this week.
An assessment of manifesto spending promises by all the parties found that the SNP was likely to have the most money available for uncosted spending.
But the SNP is also the most reliant on achieving efficiency savings - a cumulative pound;1.34 billion between now and 2011, compared with Labour's pound;1.2 billion over the same period.
According to the analysis by the Centre for Public Policy for Regions, a research body jointly operated by Glasgow and Strathclyde universities, these efficiency gains can often be over-estimated. The Scottish Executive, in the first year of its initiative to cut public sector costs, claimed to have made savings of pound;500 million in 2004-05. But Audit Scotland found it difficult to confirm that these were true efficiency savings and not simply cash cuts affecting services.
There was also a "significant possibility" that the centre's under-lying assumption of a 2 per cent inflated-adjusted increase in the Scottish budget could be too optimistic, its report states. "We believe there will be significant pressure on the Scottish budget in the next few years," it warns. "This leaves little room for significant additional spending by any incoming administration."
The centre estimates that, between now and 2011, the executive would receive an extra pound;3.4 billion for new spending commitments. But staff costs could account for half of this, leaving just under pound;1.7 billion.
The researchers found the Tories had the fewest uncosted manifesto commitments -17 overall (three on education), followed by the SNP with 35 (five on education), the Greens 39 (three on education and care), Labour 77 (seven on education and lifelong learning) and the Liberal Democrats 89 (eight on education and lifelong learning).
Labour's costed plans for education and young people would amount to pound;1.3 billion in 2008-09; uncosted pledges include the raising of the school leaving age to 18. Figures provided by the Liberal Democrats reveal education promises worth pound;218 million, including pound;83 million in the first year for university and student support.
The SNP's commitments on education total pound;87 million, of which pound;35 million will go on limiting P1-3 classes to 18 pupils (rising to pound;105 million by 2011). The Conservative's education plans come with a price tag of pound;5 million to set up a rural schools support fund. And the Green Party would spend pound;263 million on education.