08/12/2011 15:28 GMT

SNP Cuts Branded 'Faster And Deeper Than Tories'

The Deputy First Minister has hit back at Labour claims that the Scottish Government is imposing tougher public sector cuts than the Tories.

Labour's Iain Gray said the Nationalist administration had "cut more public sector jobs" than UK Chancellor George Osborne.

He asked: "If the SNP are the social democrats they claim, then why are they cutting the public sector faster and deeper than the Tories?"

With Nicola Sturgeon deputising for Alex Salmond while he is on official business in China, Mr Gray pressed her on the issue at First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament. But she dismissed his claims as "a load of utter nonsense".

Mr Gray said police numbers had fallen in seven of Scotland's eight forces, on top of 700 job cuts in civilian support staff, raising fears that police officers would have to be taken off the streets to carry out their tasks.

The Labour leader went on to say the SNP Government had cut almost 4,000 teachers from Scotland's schools, with 700 positions gone in the last year alone.

But he said it was Ms Sturgeon as Health Secretary who is the "worst offender" for public sector job cuts, saying there has been "4,500 NHS staff cut since 2009 and in the last year alone 1,569 nurses and midwives cut by her from our NHS".

Ms Sturgeon however stressed the Government's "commitment" to the health service.

She told Iain Gray: "This Government will stand up for our public sector workers. We will stand up for our public sector and that's why we won such an overwhelming victory in May."