Audit Scotland report finds 'lack of transparency' in spending on drug and alcohol services

Scotland’s spending watchdog has found a “lack of transparency” in how money is spent on drug and alcohol services.

In a new report, Audit Scotland urged ministers to create an “overarching plan” for initiatives aimed at tackling the problems.

There were 1,339 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2020, the highest figure since records began. Meanwhile, 1,190 Scots died in the same year because of alcohol.

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Nicola Sturgeon has pledged £250 million this parliamentary term to tackle the issue.

Picture: John Devlin

But Audit Scotland said funding for drug and alcohol services needed to be more transparent, with information on how much is being invested and where it is being spent in one place.

The report urged the Government to use existing monitoring and the recommended plan to “assess the cost-effectiveness of funding in drug and alcohol services and the level of investment in prevention needed to achieve maximum benefit”.

The Government should also demonstrate the impact of its policies using “clear measures and public reporting”, as well as addressing “time lags” in data being published.

Auditor General Stephen Boyle said: “We’ve recently seen more drive and leadership around drug and alcohol misuse from the Scottish Government.

“But it’s still hard to see what impact policy is having on people living in the most deprived areas, where long-standing inequalities remain.

“Drug and alcohol data is not good enough, and there is a lack of transparency about how money is being spent and allocated.

“The Scottish Government needs to set out an integrated plan, with clear measures showing how extra spending is being used to reduce the tragic loss of life we’ve seen over the last decade.”

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Scottish Conservative shadow drugs policy minister Sue Webber said the report showed the Government’s strategies to help those with addiction were “simply not working”.

“We hear a lot of warm words and funding announcements from ministers, but it is increasingly hard to establish whether this money is reaching the people and communities it needs to,” she said.

Scottish Labour’s drug policy spokesperson Claire Baker said: “This stark report calls for urgent action to deliver a more strategic public health response to the drug and alcohol deaths crisis we face.

“The SNP have had 15 years to address the issues raised in this report and deliver the accountability, transparency and data that we need – but they have failed."

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government welcomed the report and accepted it raised “some concerns”.

They said: “The report highlights the need for better and more up to date data to monitor progress. In December 2021, the minister for drugs policy announced £1.1m of new investment into public health surveillance projects to improve our real-time understanding of harms to enable better and faster responses.

"We will shortly be announcing a target to commence on April 1, which will increase the number of people in protective treatment for problematic drug use. We are also working with Public Health Scotland to improve alcohol treatment data, including the development of PHS’s surveillance system.”

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They added: “We are also working closely with Integration Authorities on accountability and transparency, and recently approved a new governance framework with Cosla. This will improve the effectiveness of alcohol and drug partnerships in advance of the more ambitious reforms under the new National Care Service.”

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