What can we learn from public sector ICT projects?

Digital technology has become such a familiar feature in our everyday lives that it can be easy to miss until you stop and take a look around. We can order a takeaway, book a gym class, track our morning bus before we’ve even left the house or speak to friends and family on the other side of the globe; all at the click of a button.

So it’s no wonder that as a society, we increasingly expect our public bodies to use digital when delivering services, or that more and more organisations themselves are placing digital at the centre of their plans for future transformation of services.

However, designing and managing ICT programmes remains a challenge for public bodies. Over the past few years, we’ve reported on a number of ICT projects which have gone wrong or had issues. Last year, when we reported on the Scottish Government’s Common Agricultural Policy Futures programme, we said we’d pull together all the lessons learned from our previous reports, and look to other countries to see if they had any other insights to offer.

We’ve now completed that work and we found that the issues experienced by Scottish public sector bodies are no different to those experienced around the world, or indeed in the private sector.

Today we publish Principles for a digital future: Lessons learned from public sector ICT projects. This summary is intended to help public bodies deliver digital and ICT programmes by setting out five high level principles that should be considered as they plan and manage their projects.

Unlike the work we’ve reviewed, this is not a national performance audit report so we’ve adopted a different format for this publication – it’s digital, interactive and, perhaps most importantly, it’s short and easy to read.

The five principles we have set out are:

  • Comprehensive planning
  • Active governance
  • User engagement
  • Leadership
  • Strategic oversight and assurance

Within each of these, there are a number of areas to consider and these cannot be considered in isolation. All interact to help create the right environment for a successful project, and underpinning everything is having the right skills and experience on the project at the right time. We highlight this by using a handy skills icon at various points throughout the document. Of course, we know finding the right skills can be difficult, particularly in the public sector but past projects show that this is an essential ingredient of any successful ICT project.

We’ve packed the summary with helpful quotes and case studies from around the world to add some flavour and help explain the thinking behind our principles in more detail. We’ve also provided a handy list of articles, and links to useful websites we think will be helpful for people responsible for managing or overseeing ICT and digital programmes.

We will also be presenting our findings at various events in the coming months, including the Holyrood Connect Conference in June, so look out for my colleague Gemma Diamond there.

If you’d like to know more, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re keen to hear feedback on the briefing, and whether it’s been of help to anyone thinking about embarking on a new digital/ICT project.

About the author

Morag Campsie is an audit manager and has worked on a variety of financial and performance audits since joining Audit Scotland in 2007. Her recent work includes our report on Managing ICT Contracts in Central Government, and audits of the Scottish Government’s Common Agricultural Policy Futures Programme.

 

Public audit in Scotland: What’s on the horizon?

We are living in incredibly busy times for the public sector in Scotland, with each passing week bringing a new political announcement or debate. With so much going on, it can be hard to think beyond the next few months.

I’ve often heard it said that audit is retrospective in nature, but in fact we spend a lot of time and energy looking ahead to understand what’s on the horizon, what it means for our future work, and what impact we want to have. And we need to make sure that our plans reflect the priorities and concerns of the public and our key stakeholders, whichever policy area we’re focused on.

Our new approach uses these principles to create a rolling five-year programme of audits, which we refresh each year. The results of our latest review are now available on our website, setting out in detail what areas of public spending and policy we plan to report on between now and 2021/22.

The programme covers all of the work that Audit Scotland will carry out over the next five years on behalf of me and my colleagues in the Accounts Commission, the local government watchdog. It’s based on consultation with a range of stakeholders; for example, as Auditor General I report to the Parliament’s Public Audit & Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee and we consulted with committee members to see how the audit risks we’d identified through our work matched what they want to see from public audit in the coming years.

As well as the audits of specific policy developments across the public sector, I’d like to highlight a couple of areas that will inevitably affect much of the public sector, and all of us who use public services in Scotland, in the long-term.

First off are the historic changes taking place in Scotland’s public finances, with new financial powers coming on stream through the Scotland Acts 2012 and 2016. We reported our latest update to MSPs last month and will continue to report on this annually. This commitment reflects the scale of the work that will be required of the Scottish Government and others to successfully implement and manage the new powers.

We’ll also continue to expand our high-profile work on Scotland’s NHS, with audits of the NHS workforce, children’s mental health services, and health and social care integration all in the pipeline.

And there’s lot more, right across the public sector, from ferry services and widening access, higher education to fire reform, digital to community justice. We’ll also continue to explore different ways of making our work accessible to everyone with an interest, building on the range of ways we already report our work.

If you’d like to know more, you can find out who to contact here.

About the author

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

 

Reflecting on the Accounts Commission’s refreshed work programme

With council elections in Scotland having taken place last week, this seems an appropriate time for the Accounts Commission to set out its plans and work programme for the next five years.

As the weeks of campaigning by political parties and candidates drew to a close last week, newly elected local councils across Scotland are now preparing for the major challenges they face in delivering on their policies and priorities, with less money available  from the public purse.

As the independent watchdog for local government in Scotland, the Accounts Commission plays a prime role in holding councils to account for the money they spend and helping them improve their vital services to the public. Therefore, our strategy and our work programme reflect the complex financial environment which councils operate in, new approaches to service delivery and national policy developments that have a major impact on the operations of local government.

Together with the Auditor General, we’ve adopted a new approach to our future work programme, to be taken forward by Audit Scotland. The programme is planned over a five year-period and updated annually to ensure that our strategic priorities are aligned with key changes in our environment.

As Acting Chair of the Commission, it is important to me that we continue to ensure that we are as effective as possible, that we respond constructively to feedback  from our stakeholders and that we continually ask ourselves how we can  maximise our impact  in this crucial time for Scottish public services.

So what’s to come in the next five years?

Central to our future work is a refreshed approach to Best Value audits of councils, and we’ll report on six or seven individual local authorities each year. These reports provide valuable information and insight for councillors, officers and local residents on the performance of their local authority, and how councils are  dealing their with financial challenges and growing pressures on services – a situation that applies to every council in Scotland.

Our new approach re-emphasises the importance of continuous improvement in councils, and we want to see auditors focus and make judgements on the quality of services and positive outcomes for local people and communities. The first batch of audits is already underway.

As well as reviewing the performance of individual councils, we’ll continue to provide our annual review of the local government sector as a whole. In 2016/17 we piloted a new two-part approach to this audit, publishing separate reports on the sector’s financial health, and its service performance. The feedback from councils and other stakeholders was positive and we plan to continue this approach in future.

There’s also a key role for the Commission in reviewing, commenting on and informing how national policy developments are impacting on service design and delivery within councils. As such, we’ve a number of audits planned in this area, from early learning and childcare, to employability and community justice. In some areas, we’ll work closely with the Auditor General, to provide a dual perspective on how policies are being implemented at both a national and local level.

If you’re interested in our work, it’s worth keeping an eye out for a few important announcements in the next few weeks – we’ll publish our annual report for 2016/17 as well as our refreshed strategy and engagement plan. They’ll be available on our website, and we’ll be working hard to communicate these and engage with newly elected members and officers as they adjust to a new chapter in their respective councils.

About the author

Ronnie Hinds is Acting Chair of the Accounts Commission and a former chief executive of Fife Council. He also chairs the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland.

Looking ahead: our work programme

Audit Scotland, on behalf of the Accounts Commission and Auditor General for Scotland, implemented its new approach to programme development about 18 months ago. An important part of that was introducing a more strategic five year rolling work programme, which gets refreshed every year. We did our first formal refresh of its content last December and have published the results today.

Our approach involved taking stock of the unprecedented changes that have been taking place in Scotland, the UK and beyond over the last year, such as Scotland’s New Financial Powers and the outcome of the EU referendum, and what they might mean for our work. We also gave careful consideration to whether the timing was still right for some of the work to which we’re still committed as part of our rolling programme, for example, our planned series of reports on health and social care integration.

A key objective of our new approach to programme development was to ensure that our work is focusing on important issues, where the insights that audit can bring will add value and help make a positive difference to public spending and policy in Scotland.

That being the case we’ve consulted lots of people, both formally and informally, on the key priorities and what our work should focus on. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank anyone who fed in to this process, as the contributions that we received were all valuable and helped us to shape our work plans going forward.

The feedback we’ve had so far has been positive, but we’re not complacent. Over the coming year we will be working hard to broaden our engagement with different groups of people who use and deliver public services in Scotland.

We’ll also be trying out different ways of communicating the messages from our work so that we play our part in improving the key public services that make such a difference to so many people’s lives across Scotland. You can find out more about the different ways we report our work here.

In the mean time if you have any comments on the work programme, or our approach to programme development, find out how to get in touch by visiting our website.

About the author


MM6A7183Antony Clark is an Assistant Director at Audit Scotland.

Auditing historic change in Scotland’s public finances

On 1st April, the Scottish Parliament gained control of income tax rates and bands, higher borrowing limits, and the management of the Crown Estate in Scotland – and there are more new powers to come.

The Scotland Act 2016 is fundamentally changing management of the public finances and, once fully implemented, half of what is spent in Scotland will be raised here and the budget will be subject to greater uncertainty and volatility than ever before. With more control over public finances and new opportunities and risks, it’s clear that we’re entering new territory.

The scale of change needed to implement and manage the new financial powers is significant and it’s important that the Parliament and the public can see what progress is being made. As the public spending watchdog, Audit Scotland has carried out extensive work in this area.

On Thursday, I’ll join the Auditor General, Caroline Gardner, and colleagues to present the findings of our latest report on managing new financial powers to Holyrood’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. We looked at how the Scottish Government, Revenue Scotland and the Scottish Fiscal Commission are introducing and managing the range of powers devolved through the 2012 and 2016 Scotland Acts.

We found that the Scottish Government is well-organised to deliver new tax and spending powers. It has updated its structures for overseeing the new powers and has good programme management processes in place. Revenue Scotland is also making good progress in preparing for further devolved taxes, and the transition of the Scottish Fiscal Commission to a statutory body is being managed effectively.

The new powers will substantially change the type and volume of work the Scottish Government will do. We found that the Scottish Government is identifying the staff and skills it needs, but recruiting enough people with the required skills may prove difficult. We recommend that the Scottish Government build a clearer picture of potential future costs, to help plan how it will fund implementation of the new powers within its budget.

In this changing environment, a more strategic approach to public financial management and reporting is needed. This includes a medium-term financial strategy based on clear policies and principles. The Scottish Government is taking steps to provide a more comprehensive picture of the public finances, as it’s important that the Parliament and public have the information they need to understand and scrutinise the government’s financial decisions.

MSPs will have the chance to discuss these findings in detail with us this week, and the session can be watched live on Parliament TV.

We’ll continue to report on the progress of public bodies in implementing and managing the new financial powers. If you’re interested in our work in this area, our new e-hub on financial devolution has a range of reports, exhibits, briefings and other useful tools.

About the author

MarkTaylorMark Taylor is an Assistant Director in Audit Scotland. He is responsible for overseeing Audit Scotland’s work relating to financial devolution and constitutional change.

Scotland’s NHS workforce: The current picture

Major challenges lie ahead for the NHS in Scotland. As I reported last year, there are growing pressures on NHS boards which are struggling to juggle service delivery and progress major reform, at the same time as managing considerable financial challenges.

cover_nhs_workforceNearly 160,000 people work in Scotland’s NHS, which provides vital services for millions of us every year. Their hard work and commitment, sometimes in life-or-death circumstances, is always to be admired. However, the NHS faces challenges if the workforce is to meet the growing demands of our ageing population and adapt to new ways of working.

We know that our audit work on health and social care in Scotland has a role to play in the wider debate about what’s needed to transform these services and make them sustainable for the future.

Building on our recent findings, we’ve begun a new two-part audit to evaluate how the Scottish Government and NHS boards are tackling the issues, through workforce planning and national and local initiatives. The first report focuses on overall workforce planning and workforce pressures in hospitals and will be published in summer 2017. The second is due out in 2018/19 and will explore primary care and GP workforce issues.

In advance of our first report, this briefing provides some key information on the shape of the current NHS workforce and sets out some of the issues that we’re delving into during the course of our audit.

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

The story behind Self-directed Support

About £8 billion was spent on providing social care last year, and as the public spending watchdog, we’re really interested in what that funding is achieving for the people who deliver and use these vital services. We’ve done a lot of audit work in this area already, and we’ve reported that these services face tough challenges, like coping with rising demand alongside financial pressures.

Under the policy of Self-directed Support (SDS), people accessing social care services are able to choose where, when and how they receive care. This was a major change to the way services were delivered and, when the legislation first kicked in, Audit Scotland reported on how ready the Scottish Government and local authorities were to implement the new way of working.

Just over two years on, we want to see how well things are going. I’m part of the team carrying out Audit Scotland’s latest review of self-directed support, on behalf of the Auditor General and the Accounts Commission.

At this crucial early stage of the new approach, it’s very important for us to understand what’s being delivered for the people who need support. So we’ve launched a survey asking users, their carers, friends and family to share their stories of using SDS in 2016 and 2017.

We want to hear about your journey, from approaching the authorities for help, to having your support needs assessed, to making choices about how you’re supported and agreeing a care plan.

Did you feel your needs were understood by the assessor? Were you given a range of options? How is your support managed now? Were you ultimately satisfied with the outcome?

Your experiences will be invaluable to us in understanding how the changes to social care are affecting people. It’ll help us shine a light on what’s working well, and what still needs to be improved, as we pull together our key findings and judgements.

You can share as much or as little detail as you like, and if you’d rather talk to us in person about an issue you’ve highlighted in the survey, we’d love to hear from you – just include your contact details.

We’ll run the survey until the 27th February, so please share the questionnaire with other users and carers, so we can gather as many stories as possible.

Thank you for your support.

About the author

zoe

Zoe McGuire, Auditor, joined Audit Scotland in January 2014. She has been involved in auditing community partnerships at national and local level, as well as Best Value audits of East Dunbartonshire Council and Moray Council. She is part of the team carrying out the 2017 audit of Self-directed Support.

Event reflections: How can we transform health and social care?

I recently took part in a Holyrood event focused on the messages and recommendations in Audit Scotland’s Changing models of health and social care report. We partnered with Holyrood on the event, and I set the scene with a presentation on our recent health and social care work –including a screening of our new animation – to highlight some of the challenges facing these services, and what still needs to be done to get them to a place where they can cope with the demands of our growing, ageing population.

01_title-slideThe guest speakers at the event – from bodies such as NHS boards, health and social care partnerships and the ALLIANCE – gave some really useful insight into different approaches and new models of care being developed in local areas. We featured these examples as case studies alongside our report.

One speaker, Professor Lewis Ritchie, talked about transforming out-of-hours care and the importance of people. Representatives from ISD Scotland and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde: Public Health illustrated how good data can support and improve decision-making, to help transform services. The presentations were extremely varied and interesting, with engaging speakers who were clearly passionate about what they do.

It was a small event with around 30 delegates. I was initially concerned that we’d struggle to stimulate enough questions and discussion during the panel sessions, but I needn’t have worried. The venue’s cosy and informal nature seemed to make people more relaxed and open, and we actually ended up running out of time in each session as people had so much to say!

The big take home message for me was that while this is one of the most challenging times ever experienced by public bodies, there are a lot of dedicated staff determined to get it right and make the needed changes to how care is delivered. These ‘local champions’ are the ones that can identify what’s needed on the ground. They are the ones who come up with innovative ways of working, overcome many barriers and convince managers that the old way of doing things isn’t an option any more.

We’ve recommended that evaluation of new models needs to improve to inform the evidence base of what works. I was heartened to see at the event that this was something that presenters and their colleagues had been working hard to do.

08_line-up-of-our-reportsThere was also lot of admiration in the room for Audit Scotland, which was really encouraging.

We know that the challenges facing health and social care can be a sensitive subject, and we’re always acutely aware of how our work will be received, and the impact we can have on the public’s awareness of the issues we highlight. That’s why it was great to hear delegates say that they valued our clear, factual and independent reports, which stimulated useful debate and helped to influence change. They also commented that we weren’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects and tell it like it is.

This is brilliant feedback for us to build on, particularly as we have a number of future audits planned in different areas of health and social care, including a look at the NHS workforce. We’ll post updates on our online hub as these are developed in more detail. In the meantime, we’d welcome comments or feedback from anyone interested in this area of our work.

About the author

mm6a5513Jillian Matthew is an audit manager and joined Audit Scotland in 2003. She has worked on numerous audits with a health and social care focus, including Audit Scotland’s annual review of the NHS in Scotland, an overview of mental health services, and reviews of NHS waiting lists, cardiology and orthopaedic services.

 

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.