Here is the transcript of the exchange:
3. Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet.
The First Minister (Alex Salmond): The next meeting of Cabinet will discuss issues of importance to the people of Scotland.
Tavish Scott: The sum of £11 billion in the chancellor's pre-budget report is marked down as "efficiency savings". It shows the depths of crisis brought upon this country by Labour that there is £1.5 trillion of consumer debt, banks are not regulated properly and public sector spending is based on a property price bubble that Labour claimed would never end.
An Audit Scotland report on NHS boards, which was published this morning, makes sober reading. On efficiency, the report says that it will be difficult for some boards
"to achieve the required level of savings without any negative impact on the services they provide."
Does the First Minister agree with Audit Scotland?
The First Minister: I agree with Audit Scotland when it praises the financial performance of the NHS in Scotland and says that most of the key targets were met. We should congratulate the national health service and its staff throughout Scotland on achieving that.
No one pretends that, given the financial clouds emanating from Westminster, budget decisions will be anything other than extremely difficult. That is why I hope that the Liberal Democrats will get behind John Swinney's financial proposals, which, of course, protect the NHS in Scotland.
Tavish Scott: It would be much easier to get behind those proposals if Mr Salmond would answer the specific question that Audit Scotland put to him this morning.
With tough times in the health service, the priority must surely be for nurses and doctors to be in post and for services to be kept open. However, health boards themselves have released new figures under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, which show that more than 2,100 people in the Scottish health service get paid more than £100,000 per year—they make a total of more than £300 million every year, £30 million of which is in bonuses. Will the First Minister guarantee that those very well-paid people—not the nurses, carers and cleaners, who earn a fraction of that money—will shoulder the burden? Would that not be a fair way to protect front-line services?
The First Minister: To protect workers in the health service we had better not follow the proposals from the Liberal Democrats in London, which, of course, would hit the pay of key workers across the national health service.
Let us look at the Audit Scotland report, which found that the national health service in Scotland has a good record on efficiency savings. It exceeded its target last year and achieved savings of £300 million against a target of £215 million. The big difference in terms of the efficiency targets of this Government, whether in the national health service or across the public services, is that every single penny of those efficiency savings achieved by the national health service is reinvested in front-line care in Scotland. That is the key difference and that is why we should have the support of Tavish Scott.
So once again Alex Salmond is ignoring the tough questions facing Scotland in efficiency savings, much in the same way that Gordon Brown seems prone to do in Westminster. He is ignoring the crux of the matter that administrators and the like are taking bonuses that is affecting the efficiency and ability of front-line services. The issue that the Lib Dems are raising on this and Banker's pay is that the important workers are those that provide the customer service.
Indeed the report Alex is praising at one hand is pointing out difficulties at the same time. He is clearly using selective reading to find the portions that praise his Government's record on health, much as he is distorting details on education to make his party look good.