Outcomes to guide Scots public finances

23 Mar 18

Management of Scotland’s public finances is to be transformed with a far greater focus on outcomes, delegates at the CIPFA Scotland annual conference have heard.

Caroline Gardner, auditor general at Audit Scotland, said the planned refresh of the Scottish Government’s National Performance framework in the summer was a welcome step in the right direction. 

“Having that clarity over outcomes is massively more effective than focusing on the processes and outputs of public services,” she said.

However, she said there was “room to be more rigorous” in planning for those outcomes.

She gave the example of the Scottish Government’s recent investment in early learning and childcare to increase the number of funded places, where there was “tension” between the goals of improving childcare for disadvantaged families, and providing flexible childcare to allow more parents to work or study.

“It sounds like you’re being a carping beancounter, but it does make a difference, particularly when you’re investing millions over a period of time,” she said. That transparency provided a better basis for deciding whether or not a particular approach was working.

Alyson Stafford, director general, Scottish Exchequer at the Scottish Government, said she was “really heartened” to see an increased focus on outcomes.

“Not many countries actually want their performance enshrined in statute,” she said. “It is something we should all own in Scotland..and a great opportunity for all of us in how we reframe our challenges going forward.”

However, speaking earlier in the day, Jim Johnston, clerk of the Scottish Parliament’s finance and constitution committee, said that the focus on outcomes would provide a challenge for politicians.

“It is a significant culture shift from the past, and judging success based on the number of police on the street or nurses in the NHS, towards measuring the actual environmental economic and social objectives being achieved by public spending in Scotland,” he said.

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