Transparency over public spending remains vital

by Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland

The Scottish Government has been spending at unprecedented levels to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, support people’s health, families and livelihoods, and uphold the wider economy.  

Most of this spending has been supported by increased Scottish funding resulting from Covid-19 spending decisions by the UK Government (known as Barnett consequentials). In 2020/21 this totalled £8.6 billion. Scottish Ministers have committed to spending this in full on the Covid-19 response, and have redirected other parts of the Scottish budget, announcing total spending of over £9 billion. 

Provisional figures for 2020/21 show the Scottish Government spent £48 billion against a revised budget of £48.5 billion, with a £449 million underspend (around one per cent). We are currently auditing this spending in our annual audit of the Scottish Government’s consolidated accounts and will be reporting our findings at the end of this year.  

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Public Services and Scotland’s Voluntary Sector during Covid-19

By Andrew Burns, Accounts Commission Member

Scotland’s Voluntary Sector is made up of an estimated 40,000 organisations, from grassroots community groups and village hall committees, to over 6,000 social enterprises. The sector has a combined annual turnover that reached a remarkable £6 billion in 2018.

Collectively, the Scottish Voluntary Sector employs over 100,000 paid staff. Yet nearly three quarters (72%) of Scottish voluntary organisations have no staff whatsoever and rely on volunteers. Social care and health organisations employ over half of all the paid staff in the sector.

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Making climate change an audit priority

By Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland

Tackling climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face – and public audit has a clear role to play.

Experts have warned that urgent and decisive action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonise how we live and work. We also need to minimise the harm climate change is already causing by investing in adaptations like flood prevention and coastal defenses.

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Partnership working key to maximising skills investment

By Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland

A skilled workforce is vital to Scotland’s economic growth. Equipping people with relevant skills can help them to progress to more fulfilling, secure and well-paid work, which in turn has wider social benefits. Developing individuals’ skills can also help to increase their ability to carry out more advanced tasks, which has the potential to add more value to the economy and improve
national productivity. But the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on jobs creates the risk that differences between the skills people have and those employers need could widen.

The pandemic has made it more important than ever that Scotland’s skills system is operating effectively so that it works well for both employers and individuals. This includes people who have been the hardest hit economically by Covid-19, such as young people and low-paid workers. The Scottish Government recognises this and it has included skills and training in its Covid-19 economic recovery plans, which set out its ambition for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

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Partnerships must be central in protecting and supporting people as we rebuild from Covid-19

By Stephen Moore, Member of the Accounts Commission

Governments, working in partnership, exist to empower, protect and enable and support all of us to live the lives we choose. At their best, partnership working is a force for change, underpinned with regard for our human rights, to benefit those who most need support.

And it is by strong, empowered partnership working, through collective action, that we can begin to rebuild our communities. This need is urgent, given the severity of the impact of Covid-19 on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

As we report in our latest Local Government Overview, councils working in partnership with the third sector and communities have been essential in protecting people’s wellbeing. 

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Cyber crime: A serious risk to Scotland’s public sector

By Dr Bernadette Milligan

Recent cyber attacks at SEPA and the University of the Highlands and Islands have highlighted the threat that cybercrime poses to the public sector in Scotland. 

The Christmas Eve attack on SEPA led to data being stolen and has significantly impacted the organisation’s operations,  with the criminal gang responsible, Conti, having now launched a serious attack on  Ireland’s healthcare system. 

These incidents highlight that cybercrime is a risk that the public sector in Scotland needs to take seriously.  

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Auditing to support public service recovery

By Elma Murray OBE, Interim Chair, Accounts Commission

Covid-19 has had a profound impact on all of us.  The public services we all receive, and many of us depend on, have adapted, in many cases transformed, and will continue to change.

Large sums of money have been spent to manage the pandemic and will continue to be spent as the country seeks to recover.

Audit Scotland, the Auditor General for Scotland and the Accounts Commission have been working closely to reflect on all we have learned so far, what we have heard from those most affected by the pandemic and how our work can contribute most to the efficient recovery and renewal of public services.

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Working towards a more equal society in Scotland

By Geraldine Wooley, Member of the Accounts Commission

Covid-19 has disproportionately affected both the health and prosperity of groups such as black, Asian and ethnic minorities, women and the disabled, reinforcing many of the inequalities that underlie our society with a stark brutality.

Having worked for many years on women’s equality in the labour market, and supporting people facing multiple disadvantages such as homelessness, poor mental health and substance abuse, I worry that the progress we had achieved is now at risk in the aftermath of the pandemic.

I recognise that the public sector will have to face multiple challenges as we emerge from this crisis. Nevertheless, I feel it’s vitally important that providers of public services remain aware of the consequences of inequality as well as adopt strategies to protect those facing disadvantage.

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Tendering for new audit appointments this year

By Alan Alexander, Chair of the Audit Scotland Board

Public audit in Scotland supports a mixed-market approach to audit appointments, appointing as auditors employees of Audit Scotland and audit firms. This mixed audit delivery model brings together a wealth of specialist experience and supports a flexible and sustainable supply of cost-effective, high-quality audits.

Tendering every five years ensures best practice by enabling the rotation of auditors, so that a public body doesn’t have the same auditor for an extended period. The latest tender round was planned for last year, but the Auditor General and the Accounts Commission made the decision to extend the current audit appointments for a year, given the disruption, risks and complexity of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I am pleased to announce that we will proceed with the tendering process this year and we will be inviting audit firms to bid for work this autumn. This decision has been made possible, in part, because we have seen the completion of all of the 2019/20 financial audits this year; a real achievement in such difficult circumstances.

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