MSPs have called for “fundamental action” to be taken to ensure public bodies use taxpayers’ money wisely – including giving more teeth to the financial spending watchdog.
Audit Scotland reports into Scotland’s public sector outline recurring issues of leadership challenges, poor workforce planning, weak governance arrangements, failed IT projects and an absence of key data, according to a report by Holyrood’s Public Audit and Post Legislative Committee.
The report warns failing to deal with these problems risks “the financial sustainability and effectiveness of public services”.
It states that “fundamental action needs to be taken to ensure that public sector bodies use our money wisely and that public services are sustainable in the long term”.
The report criticises part of the public sector for reacting defensively in the face of critical audits and attempting to downplay failings.
Public bodies and the Scottish Government should be required to respond formally to and then act on the Auditor General’s recommendations, the report states, with consequences in place for failures.
If action is not taken, justification for this should be formally recorded, the committee recommends.
Committee convener Jenny Marra said: “Our committee hasn’t seen any evidence that Audit Scotland recommendations are being followed through. In some cases, a public body will be subjected to repeated section 22 reports from the Auditor General – a clear sign that they are just not getting to grips with the issues that need to be addressed. This is disappointing.
“A formal framework which includes acknowledgement that things have gone wrong and which lays out a recorded process through which lessons will be learned, shared and acted upon is now essential.”
She added: “The same themes – failed IT projects, leadership challenges, poor governance arrangements – continue to come up time and time again. This is concerning and suggests that lessons aren’t being learnt.
“We know these issues can’t be resolved easily, but it is vital that the Scottish Government and leaders across the public sector take solid steps to tackle them.
“Public money must be spent wisely and public services must become sustainable over the long term.”