Holyrood in call for improvement on public sector boards

Andrew Flanagan resigned as chairman of the Scottish Police Authority following audit committee criticism. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
Andrew Flanagan resigned as chairman of the Scottish Police Authority following audit committee criticism. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
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A Holyrood committee has called for improvements to the way boards of public sector bodies are run following a “steady stream of critical reports”.

The public audit committee set out its concerns in a letter to the finance secretary, Derek Mackay, highlighting the example of “significant governance failings” at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) which eventually resulted in its chairman Andrew Flanagan announcing he will resign.

Public bodies must continue to improve performance in order to deliver a service that is high quality, efficient and responsive to local people’s needs

Scottish Government

It also cited reports from current and previous auditors general on problems of governance and financial management at various public bodies over many years.

Meanwhile, many of the criticisms of the structure and operation of public bodies’ boards set out in a 2010 audit report on the role of boards are still valid today, the committee said. Concerns highlighted by the committee included board members feeling inhibited from challenging board chairs or chief executives, a lack of redress for members if the chief executive or chair is performing poorly, and the lack of an effective and transparent means of assessing performance.

The committee set out several measures to address these problems, including the involvement of a senior independent director on a board as a “check and balance” on the performance of the chair or chief executive. Its letter also pointed to issues around appointments, and called for a simple and streamlined process to attract the well-qualified people with a track record in the public, private and third sectors rather than “those who are most adept at repeating public sector jargon”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As the committee notes, the proportion of organisations subject to critical audit reports is very small, however, public bodies must continue to improve performance in order to deliver a service that is high quality, efficient and responsive to local people’s needs. We will consider the letter and its recommendations carefully.”