Plea for public spending watchdog

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THE Scottish Government should have all its policies and promises stress-tested by an independent spending monitor to weed out any more waste from the cash-strapped public purse, one of the country’s leading finance experts will say this week.

Bill Howat, who conducted an investigation into the spending habits of Scottish ministers six years ago, says ministers could adopt a similar model to the Office of Budget Responsibility which now runs the rule over the UK Treasury.

The new call comes with leading public finance experts warning that – whether Scotland goes independent or not over the next few years – the public sector is set to run out of cash as it attempts to keep pace with rocketing costs and an ageing population.

Howat says the SNP administration has markedly improved efficiency compared with the previous Lib-Lab administration which, he says, was “all over the shop” on spending.

But he argues that a “challenge function” would still help at the heart of government, acting as a final “quality assurance check” on all spending.

Last month, one senior former civil servant at Holyrood described some spending by ministers as “barking” – such as the offer of a free bus pass to everyone over the age of 60.

Ahead of a conference this week, Howat said changes to the way the Government was now run under Finance Secretary John Swinney, compared with the previous Scottish Executive, were “a big improvement”.

But he added: “What they don’t have is an independent challenge function… a bit like the Office of Budget Responsibility. We were saying five years ago that something like that was needed.”