The impartial Institute for Fiscal Studies also warned that her manifesto vow to invest £2.5 billion may not be enough to keep up with spiralling demand. Experts also questioned the First Minister’s pre-election promise to freeze taxes as rivals claimed her “pre-election bribes” had been exposed. Ms Sturgeon pledged to increase the frontline health budget by at least 20 per cent over the next five years as part “full-scale remobilisation” following the coronavirus pandemic.
She boasted this represented a “transformational increase” and an “exceptional response” to Covid pressures on the NHS.
An IFS analysis said the pledge would amount to a real-terms increase of around 2.1 per year – slower than the Prime Minister’s promise of 3.4 per year to NHS England.
It also suggested more cash “might be needed to keep pace with demographic and cost pressures” that were already placing a strain on the NHS before Covid.
Ms Sturgeon also promised voters a £10 billion programme on investment in NHS facilities over the next decade.
The IFS said this £1 billion-a-year would equate to £183 per person in Scotland, around 12% higher than the £163 planned for England next year.
But it noted: “In recent years, capital investment has represented a smaller fraction of overall health spending in Scotland than in other parts of the UK.
“If delivered, this investment plan could reverse that.”
A report from the same group this week said health spending has risen at a slower rate under the SNP in Scotland than under the Tories in England.
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The IFS cast doubt on Ms Sturgeon’s claim that pledges can be afforded while freezing tax.
It also said the dental policy will benefit mainly middle and higher earners as the worst-off already get it free.
David Phillips, associate IFS director said “Paying for all of these pledges in what could be a tight funding environment over the next few years will require tricky trade-offs though: tax rises or spending cuts in at least some other areas.
“The tougher fiscal situation an independent Scotland would face in at least its first few years would make the challenge of delivering these commitments even harder.”
Scottish Tory economy spokesman said the findings had exposed Ms Sturgeon’s “brazen pre-election bribes”.
He added: “We know that if implemented, many of these headline-grabbing spending announcements would only be possible due to additional funding from the UK Government.
“The irony is that if the SNP got their way in ripping Scotland out of the UK, taxes would rocket, and public spending would suffer deep cuts.
“Scottish voters are smart enough to know that none of this is ‘free’ and must ultimately be paid for through taxation.
“SNP smoke and mirrors cannot change the basic rules of economics.”
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