Clearer plan needed to reform public services

The Scottish Government quickly addressed short-term financial challenges in 2022/23, but reform of the public sector is needed to deal with longer-term financial pressures.

The Scottish Government needs to work with its partners to clearly set out how the design and delivery of public services will need to change. Understanding the overall assets and liabilities within the Scottish public sector would support this. But the Scottish Government has made no progress on developing a devolved public sector account, despite this being a commitment since 2016.

The Scottish Government’s approach to public performance reporting also needs to improve. Several indicators of wellbeing are still not being reported on, five years after the National Performance Framework was set up.

In a welcome move, a new division has now been set up by the Scottish Government to better inform future interventions in private companies and manage those currently in place. This recognises that ministers’ interventions in businesses such as BiFab, Prestwick Airport and Ferguson Marine have come at a significant financial cost in recent years.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said:

The Scottish Government responded quickly to the impact of inflation and other factors on the public finances. But most of the decisions taken were short-term and will not help manage more turbulence over the next few years.

Public services in their current shape are not affordable. Ministers urgently need to develop a clear road map that lays out how public services will be reformed to make them financially sustainable.