JOHN Swinney has warned NHS workers on the verge of striking over pay that he has “nowhere else to go” to fund a better offer.

The deputy First Minister said finding anything above the current offer would mean "significant consequences" for services and he was "not prepared to do that".

NHS unions are currently balloting on strike action and ambulance workers and physiotherapists have already voted for walkouts.

Mr Swinney yesterday announced £615million of cuts to the current year’s Holyrood budget to cope with inflation eroding its spending power and public pay deals costing £700m.

The savings - £400m of which came from reprioritising health spending towards pay - was on top of £560m announced in September, taking the total for 2022/23 to almost £1.2bn.

Opposition politicians warned the latest cuts, including £38m taken out of mental health provision, could be dangerous.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Swinney said he wanted health service workers to “feel well supported by a pay deal”.

He insisted the offer on the table was a “very substantial deal”, saying it represented a 7 per cent rise for health staff on average and “over 11%” for lower earners.

He said: “It is much more than is being offered south of the border and it is a very substantial deal.”

But he warned: “ I have nowhere else to go to fund pay deals beyond what the government offers. The health service offer that’s on the table just now, I have said face-to-face to the health trade unions, the government is unable to fund any more deals.

Finding additional cash for public service pay would have “ever more significant consequences”, he added, adding: “I am not prepared to do that.”

Mr Swinney is responsible for finance while Kate Forbes is on maternity leave.

Asked about the prospect of tax rises to fund pay rises for public sector workers, Mr Swinney said that was “of course an option” but changes cannot be made until the next financial year.

Decisions on tax will be made after the UK Government autumn statement on November 17.

Mr Swinney said that statement would “shape the fiscal context in which we are operating and shape the tax context in which we are operating”, and he will “reflect carefully on that”.