LABOUR will leave nothing off the table in its inquiry into Scottish Government giveaways, the economist brought in to assist MSPs has said.
Arthur Midwinter, an associate professor at Edinburgh University and former adviser to Holyrood's finance committee, said all aspects of Government spending would be examined in a two-year probe.
He was speaking after Johann Lamont, the Scottish Labour leader, positioned her party to ditch popular policies including the council tax freeze, free prescriptions for all and free university tuition for Scots and European Union students.
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In a speech on Tuesday marking a dramatic shift in Labour policy, she questioned the fairness of a range of initiatives which have benefited the better-off.
Mr Midwinter said the move was "long overdue".
He said: "My job is to provide the rigour, not to choose the policies – that's down to the politicians. But I think this is long overdue. For the last four or five years we have not taken the hard decisions.
"It has been obvious for years that the cuts have been coming. I say it's time to get serious.
"We are going to review everything. It's not just the areas that have received most publicity. There is nothing off the table.
"I think all politicians should be facing up to the fiscal realities we are now facing. There is too much fudge about the Budget and we need to get into it in-depth."
Mr Midwinter will assist task force leaders Cathy Jamieson, a shadow Treasury minister, and Ken Macintosh, Labour's finance spokesman at the Scottish Parliament.
Other members of the group include MPs Willie Bain, Tom Greatrex and Ian Murray, and MSPs James Kelly and Richard Baker. They are expected to produce a series of reports over the next two years.
In her speech, Ms Lamont raised doubts over the decision to extend free prescriptions to all, costing £57 million per year, free university tuition, at £220m, and the £70m council tax freeze.
She also criticised the Government's commitment to maintaining 1000 extra police officers over and above the 2007 level, saying that many were now doing the work of axed civilian staff.
Labour's task force will also look at free bus travel for all over-60s – a £192m giveaway – and free personal care for the elderly, which costs £340m.
But sources indicated the last two policies were unlikely to be jettisoned "on current evidence".
Ms Lamont spoke of the need for honest answers to cuts which are set to shrink the Scottish Government Budget by 11% between 2010 and 2014.
Mr Midwinter spoke about his role for the first time as Labour's move, reversing the party's support for SNP policies at the last election, sparked fresh clashes at Holyrood.
The SNP claimed Labour were "mired in confusion" after MSP Kezia Dugdale said free prescriptions for all would "probably need to stay".
SNP MSP Bob Doris said: "Labour's cuts commission is plunged into chaos and disarray.
"It is threatening to reimpose NHS prescriptions, which were a tax on the sick, so why is Kezia Dugdale saying that free prescriptions should stay? "What is going on inside Labour in Scotland?"
The Campaign for Socialism group of Labour left-wingers backed Ms Lamont. Secretary Mike Cowley said: "Johann is right to point out the inadequacies of the SNP's approach."
He called for income tax to be devolved fully to the Scottish Parliament to help tackle inequalities.