13 June 2008
A report highlighting the state of government finances should be prepared immediately before an election, say leading public finance officials in Scotland.
The proposal, seen as a means of improving public scrutiny, has been put forward in a submission prepared by CIPFA in Scotland for the Scottish Parliament's finance committee, which is reviewing the budget process.
CIPFA advocates the adoption of an idea by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In its submission, CIPFA says a pre-election report 'would serve to illuminate the general state of government finances immediately before an election'.
It adds: 'This fosters a more informed electorate and serves to stimulate public debate. Optimally, it should be released no later than two weeks prior to elections. Such a practice, if adopted in Scotland, may increase the interest in engaging with the Parliament's budget process amongst the electorate.'
CIPFA officials believe the OECD proposal could be extended to include scrutiny of political party manifestos.
The head of CIPFA in Scotland, Angela Scott, told Public Finance: 'We are suggesting that consideration be given to the publication of a pre-election report. This has many merits, not least of which would be to enable objective policy assessment at an early stage.
'A good example would be the proposals for the Scottish Futures Trust. There is no doubt that had this policy proposal had the opportunity to be the subject of early scrutiny, the information available to the electorate and the subsequent policy proposals would have been more robust, with more financial information included.'
The submission recommends adoption of OECD suggestions for a longer-term report, which would assess the sustainability of current government policies over a period of ten to 40 years.
Other proposals put forward by CIPFA, which has explored budget scrutiny methods in other countries such as the Netherlands and Norway, include the setting up of a permanent financial scrutiny unit for the Scottish Parliament.