Scotland’s AG urges better financial reporting

2 Oct 15

The Auditor General for Scotland has warned Scottish ministers that they need to develop better financial reporting ahead of the devolution of new fiscal powers.

In her review of the Scottish Government’s annual accounts, Caroline Gardner presses ministers to draw up clear plans and timescales for improving the information available to enable proper scrutiny of the whole of the devolved public sector.

“The Scottish Government has a good record of financial management and reporting, governance arrangements are generally effective and the National Performance Framework is well established,” her report says.

But it adds: “My audit work has identified a number of areas for improvement. The Scottish Government should further develop its financial reporting, including consolidated public sector accounts to provide a fuller picture of Scotland's public finances, and performance reporting.”

There is, Gardner says, no current single set of accounts that set out the overall financial position of the devolved public sector – government, councils, quangos – nor aggregate information on the sector’s combined assets or debts. CIPFA has previously made similar criticisms.

“For example, there is no readily accessible information about the aggregate pension liabilities, the largest commitment on Scotland’s devolved public sector balance sheet,” Gardner writes.

“Similarly, there is no clear overall picture of the commitments arising from investment in public assets such as schools and hospitals.

“New responsibilities for taxes, welfare and borrowing – arising from the Scotland Act 2012 and proposals for further financial devolution in the Scotland Bill 2015 – mean that the time is right to strengthen the Parliament’s scrutiny of the Scottish Government's annual consolidated accounts. The Auditor General has provided this new report to support that process,” she says.

Her report, which is presented to the Scottish Parliament’s Audit Committee, confirms that the Scottish Government underspent its budget in 2014/15 by £347m, with expenditure totalling £32,669m against a budgeted figure of £33,016m. The resource budget was underspent by £207m (0.7%) and the capital budget by £140m (7.6%).

Gardner raises several detailed concerns, notably over delays and cost increases in the Scottish Government’s Futures Programme, devised to implement EU agricultural reforms.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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