New Parliament, new powers, new opportunities

A lot has happened since my last blog, and it’s fair to say that Scotland’s new financial powers won’t have been top of the list of political developments for many of us over the last few days. Yet however events unfold in the months to come, the state of the country’s public finances is likely to be even more important, and the need for effective scrutiny even greater.

The new session of the Scottish Parliament delivers a new opportunity to focus on scrutiny and improvement of public services, as well as new faces and new priorities. The biggest change for me as Auditor General is working with a new Public Audit Committee (PAC). The committee’s membership is smaller this time around, down from nine MSPs to seven, but it’s great to see that the gender balance of the group is even, with four female MSPs on board, including the new convener and deputy convener.

The PAC will also have a wider remit in this session, with the addition of post-legislative scrutiny to its responsibilities. It’ll be interesting to see how that new role develops in the future, and to explore how our audit work can support the committee in this area.

I’ll report to the new PAC for the first time tomorrow, starting with a briefing for members on my latest update on the Scottish Government’s Common Agricultural Policy Futures Programme. I highlighted a number of concerns with the management and delivery of the programme, particularly with the IT project designed to process funding applications from Scotland’s farmers and rural businesses. Challenges remain with the project as it continues to work towards key deadlines and we’re monitoring progress, and the impact on the Scottish budget, through our annual audit of the Scottish Government’s accounts.

I’ll then give evidence on my March report on Changing Models of Health and Social Care. This report highlighted the growing need for Scotland’s health and social care services to create new ways of working, and adapt to increasing pressures. Stronger leadership is needed to achieve this, underpinned by clear, long-term planning by the Scottish Government. Health and social services are used by all of us at some point in our lives, and I expect that the committee will be keen to spend some time exploring the issues raised in my report.

At the core of both of these reports is the implementation of reforms in the public sector. As we highlighted in Audit Scotland’s 2015/16 annual report, tracking the impact of reform across public services has been a key focus of our audit work in recent years, from looking at college mergers, to examining the creation of a single police service for Scotland.

And there’s more to come, with the new financial powers for the Scottish Parliament set to have a considerable impact on how public money is managed and spent. Audit Scotland has already produced in-depth reviews of the implementation of devolved taxes delivered under the Scotland Act 2012, and we’re currently planning our next report on managing the new powers.

It’s essential that the Parliament and the public have the information they need to understand the big choices and challenges underway in public services, so Audit Scotland has committed to making our work as transparent as possible. If you’d like to know more about how we contribute to the Parliament, you can tune in and watch the PAC session live from 9am.

About the author

MM6A8690croppedCaroline Gardner is the Auditor General, and Accountable Officer for Audit Scotland. She started her term in July 2012, and has 30 years’ experience in audit, governance and financial management. Follow her on twitter @AuditorGenScot


Exploring early learning and childcare: Have your say

Audit Scotland looks at public spending and policy across the whole of the public sector, meaning there’s a huge number of areas we can potentially explore.

Right now we’re considering an audit on Early Learning and Childcare (ELCC) in Scotland. These services have recently been changed and face further reform in the future, so this feels like the right time to take a closer look at how the system is working, and what outcomes are being delivered for the people who access this support.

We haven’t explored these services in detail before, and we want to make sure we’re on the right track when we start planning our audit work. So, we’re looking for parents and carers of children eligible for funded early learning and childcare services (usually three to four-year-olds, and some two-year-olds) to share their views and experiences with us, in a brief new survey.

We’re particularly interested in exploring how public money is spent on ELCC, and what the impact has been on children, and their parents and carers, from the recent changes to the system.

Icon_A_B_AS-04These changes include:

  • An increase in the number of funded hours available for three and four year olds from 475 to 600 hours a year;
  • Provision of funded places for some two year olds;
  • An increase in the flexibility of the services, such as offering places with different hours or in different settings, dependent on local need

These are the areas we’re primarily interested in, but we also want parents and carers to let us know if there are other aspects of ELCC they think we should look at when we begin our work.

By telling us about their experiences and what areas they think we should be focusing on, they can play an important role in helping to make sure public money is spent properly, and creates positive outcomes for the people who rely on vital services like ELCC.

So if you’re a parent or carer of an eligible child (or children!), please spare a few minutes to help us build a picture of what’s happening across the country, what’s important to you and your family, and the kinds of issues we should cover in our work.

We’ll run the survey until the end of August and post further updates here and on our website as our audit starts to take shape. Why not sign up to our newsletter when you complete the survey, so we can send updates straight to your inbox?

About the author

MM6A5569Rebecca Smallwood is an auditor and joined Audit Scotland in 2008. She has worked on a number of audits with a health and social care focus, including community health partnerships, emergency departments and reshaping care for older people.