Scrutiny of Scots services needs review

6 Apr 06
Auditor general Bob Black has called for a fundamental review of the system of scrutinising public services in Scotland.

07 April 2006

Auditor general Bob Black has called for a fundamental review of the system of scrutinising public services in Scotland.

He told an audience of public sector leaders in Edinburgh on March 31 that inspection, regulation and public audit had grown in recent years and that there was a risk of overlap and possibly even of competition between scrutiny bodies.

Black believes there is a strong case for reviewing how scrutiny of public services works. He also called on scrutiny bodies to agree a set of common principles.

Black, who was delivering a Public Management and Policy Association lecture in association with CIPFA Scotland, said the Better Regulation Task Force had concluded in 2003 that 29 new regulators had been created across the UK since 1973. There was some concern about the burden of scrutiny on those providing services to the Scottish public.

Black said the focus of inspection processes was changing to reflect new integrated models of service provision.

Where inspection used to focus on professions such as social work and police, or services such as prisons or schools, it now increasingly concentrated on service users with similar needs, such as those with mental health problems or social housing tenants, or population groups such as children.

He said: 'This shift can help to ensure that the needs of service users are central to the process of inspection, but it also increases the risk of a growing overlap and possibly even a degree of competition between scrutiny bodies and processes unless we get the landscape sorted.

'All these changes do mean there is a strong case for reviewing the way in which scrutiny of public services works in Scotland.'

While pointing out that various scrutiny bodies worked closely together, he suggested they should go further in a number of areas, including agreeing a common set of principles.

He added: 'I would also suggest we do need to consider whether a more fundamental review is needed to develop a system which provides effective scrutiny and reduces bureaucracy.

'Joint inspections do not deliver an improved and less burdensome system of scrutiny in themselves unless all the bodies involved – and I include Audit Scotland in this – change their ways of working.'


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