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