Covid-19: responding, adapting and building for the future, Scotland’s Strategic Scrutiny bodies

Elma Murray, Interim Chair, Strategic Scrutiny Group and Interim Chair, Accounts Commission

Read the Strategic Scrutiny Group response to Covid-19

Covid-19 has changed our society and economy in profound ways. The immediate and longer-term impacts of Covid-19 are ever-present, shifting the ways in which we live and dominating the delivery of public services.

The pace of change has been rapid and, in many ways, this is welcome.  However that speed also presents risks to public services and the potential for increased exclusion.

Central to providing citizens with ongoing reassurance about how public services are being provided, alongside the approach to rebuilding and renewing those services, will be regulation, inspection and audit by Scotland’s scrutiny bodies.

The Strategic Scrutiny Group (SSG) comprises Scotland’s main public sector scrutiny bodies working across local government, including education, health, social care, housing, fire and justice. Its focus is on delivering efficient and effective, well-coordinated scrutiny that supports improvement in public services. It is organised and chaired by the Accounts Commission.

The work of the SSG must have precision, decision and purpose to ensure we have public services that meet our future needs and increasing demands, and that they are as accessible and inclusive as possible.

This report looks at the ways in which members of the SSG shifted their programme of inspection and audit and looks forwards to how scrutiny will help support our future recovery.

Members of the SSG quickly responded – identifying new ways in which we can continue to carry out the vital role of independent scrutiny, while providing the support needed to secure longer-term recovery and refocused public services. There has also been a shift to closer working across scrutiny bodies by sharing best practice and building on the positive changes in how we work. Throughout, the SSG has, and will continue to ensure, that the impact of scrutiny is proportionate, given the pressures on public bodies.

The SSG have identified that pressures on some public services have been amplified and exacerbated because of the impact of Covid-19. Backlogs in accessing NHS treatment, additional pressure on public finances, including social care, and the disproportionate impacts on some groups in our society, including black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and more deprived communities.

And we have looked inward too.  Staff have been working long hours, covering for those who become ill and/or need to self-isolate, and they become tired. Alongside this, rapid-decision making has been required, with changes in governance and oversight arrangements.

Now, as we look towards the winter months, there is a clear risk these issues and pressures will increase still further.

Robust, independent scrutiny of our public services matters more than ever. And we need to balance out the need for scrutiny with support to improve public services. But above all, scrutiny is there to support and encourage public services to work together collaboratively in the pursuit of improving the lives of individuals and communities.

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