Early learning and childcare: What you told us

Over the summer, Audit Scotland ran a survey to try to capture the views of parents and carers about their experiences of early learning and childcare in Scotland. This was a key part of our preparations for a new audit of these services, to give an independent assessment of how the system is working and what outcomes are being delivered for people who access this support.

It was the first time that Audit Scotland had directly reached out families who use these services, so we weren’t sure what kind of response to expect. We were really pleased with the result, as dozens of individuals and organisations helped to spread the word about the survey and over 300 people completed the questionnaire.

Icon_A_B_AS-04We learned a lot from the engagement, and collected some really useful material, including individual stories. Our early analysis of the responses shows a range of recurring views, including the positive impact that early learning and childcare can have on a child’s development and wellbeing.

However, concerns were raised on issues such as the cost of services, a lack of choice, and limited flexibility, particularly for working or studying parents.

It’s important to highlight that reform of early learning and childcare is continuing: in her September announcement on the 2016/17 Programme for Government, the First Minister set out a commitment to double the amount of free care available to all three and four-year-olds, and two-year-olds who will benefit most, by the end of the Scottish Parliament’s fifth session.

This means that our audit will be a timely and relevant contribution to the future development of early learning and childcare services. The views contributed by parents and carers have helped us to lay the groundwork for our audit and shape what questions we want to answer. There are a number of insights that we’ll investigate further and test out during the course of our fieldwork. We’ve set out more detail about our work – which we’ll carry out on behalf of the Auditor General and the Accounts Commission – in a new flyer.

One thing that’s certain is that we want to continue engaging with parents and carers, and we’re looking forward to building on the great response we’ve had so far.

We’ll continue to post updates about when we’ll publish our audit report as our work develops in the coming year – watch this space for news.

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.

Scrutinising Scotland’s infrastructure investment

The Scottish public sector invests around £5 billion each year on new infrastructure. Projects such as schools, social housing and hospitals are essential for delivering high quality, effective public services and for improving the wellbeing of people in Scotland. Investment in areas such as roads and superfast broadband can also help contribute to sustainable economic development by easing the transport of goods to market and by opening existing markets to a wider audience.

Because of all this, auditing capital investment is a key part of Audit Scotland’s work. Not only is it a significant area of public expenditure, with individual projects often costing hundreds of millions of pounds, but they also attract high public, political and media interest.

Over the summer we published two reports looking at different aspects of infrastructure investment.

The first report, Maintaining Scotland’s roads: A follow-up report published on behalf of the Accounts Commission and the Auditor General, confirmed the continuing difficulties in maintaining the condition of Scotland’s roads in the face of declining budgets and conflicting priorities. We made the point that progress with introducing a shared services approach to roads maintenance has been disappointingly slow. We also stressed that while investment in new infrastructure brought benefits, it was important that an appropriate balance was struck between new investment and the maintenance of existing infrastructure.

Shortly afterwards, we published a progress update on Superfast broadband for Scotland. We looked at the progress made on delivering superfast broadband through the public sector’s contracts with BT, and how the Scottish Government was developing plans to extend coverage and achieve its vision of world-class digital infrastructure. We found that while good progress is being made towards extending access to the fibre network, connecting rural and remote areas to the network remains a challenge. There is still work to do if the Scottish Government is to achieve its vision of high speed internet access available anywhere, and on any device, by 2020.

The broadband update was a new style of report for us, presented in a landscape format and with the emphasis on graphics rather than text to get our main findings over. We’re currently thinking about how to adapt the format for other reports, so it would be useful to hear people’s views on what they thought of the presentation of the broadband report.

We’re due to brief the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee at the Scottish Parliament on both reports on Thursday, 24th of November. This will give the members the opportunity to ask questions about the reports and for them to consider how best to continue their scrutiny of the subject areas. It’s clear from the reaction to both reports that broadband speeds and road condition are issues people in Scotland really care about, so the Committee session promises to be a lively one.

And it doesn’t just stop there. We’re proposing infrastructure audits on subjects as diverse as the Scottish Government’s CAP Futures IT project, the £1.3 billion Forth Replacement Crossing and City Deals as part of our 2017/18 performance audit programme, available here.


dscn0292Graeme Greenhill is a Senior Manager at Audit Scotland, with responsibility for the investment audit portfolio.

 

Measuring community engagement


I recently joined Audit Scotland on secondment from West Lothian Council, to help the organisation explore its approach to community engagement. As you might know from Audit Scotland’s recent efforts to reach out to parents and carers and to young people, engaging better with the people who use public services is a big priority for the organisation going forward.

I used to be a community planner, so I know what it’s like to be on the other side of an audit and I’m using that perspective to explore Audit Scotland’s approach to auditing community planning, engaging with citizens, and how it measures public bodies who claim to be good at this.

I’m really passionate about communities and individuals being involved in the planning, design and delivery of public services. That’s why I’ve been really pleased to be involved in the revision of the National Standards for Community Engagement, launched recently in Kelty Community Centre. People (as well as managers) who use services are best placed to be able to help co-design the services they need and the revised national standards will provide much needed consistency and good practice to support this.

I’m really glad to be working with Audit Scotland to develop new robust ways to measure community engagement and assess how well public bodies are rising to the challenges set in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.  The revised standards will no doubt be useful in taking that work forward, and we hope to be able to publish some information on benchmarking activities that we’re holding with a range of public sector bodies in the near future.

On November 17th, I’ll be chairing a roundtable event at Audit Scotland with representatives from the Scottish Health Council, the Consultation Institute, the Scottish Rural Parliament, Community Ownership Support Services, SCDC, PAS and the ALLIANCE. Together we’ll be exploring what good community engagement delivers, how we assess it and what tools we need to do it. I’m really looking forward to having these interesting discussions and sharing the learning that comes from the event. If you’re interested to hear more about Audit Scotland’s work in this area, be sure to keep an eye on the website for updates.


About the author

Lorraine Gillies image
Lorraine Gillies is on a 23 month secondment to Audit Scotland from West Lothian Council. A former community planner, she has a keen interest in the field of citizen engagement. She is chair of the housing and disability charity Housing Options Scotland.