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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ABOUT a year ago public service delivery was turned on its head.
Vast sums of money were being spent to cope with the pandemic, and there was a huge shift to digital. Overnight, Audit Scotland became a virtual organisation.
That changed landscape and the sheer pace of events meant our reporting had to become more agile and responsive, while maintaining audit quality and looking after our colleagues’ wellbeing.
We want our work and reports to be used widely so that they inform and help public services improve. We were already producing shorter, sharper briefing papers before Covid-19. Subjects included drugs and alcohol services, the student loan system and ways to get the best outcomes from public spending. But they were infrequent. Pieces of work with wider scopes tended to take precedence.