Scottish Government criticised for 'emerging pattern' of poor financial detail in proposed justice bill

A Holyrood committee says the Scottish Government has once again not provided enough financial detail ahead of a stage one debate on a new Bill

The Scottish Government has again been criticised for a lack of financial detail in its proposed legislation.

Holyrood’s finance and public administration committee has complained there is a lack of financial transparency and detail in the government’s Children Care and Justice (Scotland) Bill.

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This is only months after the same committee slammed the SNP-Green Government for a lack of financial detail in its proposals for a National Care Service.

The Scottish Government has been criticised for not providing enough financial detail in its Children Care and Justice Bill. This bill would look to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from going to a young offenders' institution.The Scottish Government has been criticised for not providing enough financial detail in its Children Care and Justice Bill. This bill would look to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from going to a young offenders' institution.
The Scottish Government has been criticised for not providing enough financial detail in its Children Care and Justice Bill. This bill would look to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from going to a young offenders' institution.

The committee now says it is concerned this could be an “emerging pattern” of the Government not making full financial information available to MSPs before stage one of voting.

The Children Care and Justice Bill looks to stop children under the age of 18 from being placed in a prison or young offenders’ institution. It also aims to raise the age at which a young person can be referred to the children’s hearing system from 16 to 18, and will look to make changes to how secure accommodation for children is regulated and used.

But the finance committee says it is concerned the Bill’s financial memorandum, which details the potential costs of introducing this legislation, is not up to scratch in “all areas covered by the Bill”.

Labour’s Michael Marra MSP, deputy convener of the finance committee, has written to the education, children and young people committee to raise the worries. His letter also asks the education committee to press the Government to “explain how it will learn lessons” from the National Care Service Bill.

Mr Marra said: “We would also be concerned, given ongoing issues regarding the financial memorandum for the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill, should there be an emerging pattern of not placing the best possible full and sufficient costings and information before Parliament for scrutiny ahead of stage one votes.”

The financial memorandum puts the costs at being between £5.31 million and £5.38m a year for the Government, and between £5.36m and £6.56m for councils. However, the committee says local government body Cosla and Social Work Scotland have both raised concerns about the reliability of these estimated costs.

The finance committee is now demanding the Government provides a new updated financial memorandum before the Bill is debated in Parliament.

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Mr Marra said: “While the understand that the Scottish Government has chosen to present cost estimates in this financial memorandum in line with policy areas rather than the provisions in the Bill, we are not convinced that this provides the clarity and transparency necessary for detailed scrutiny.”

The North East MSP adds the financial memorandum also “does not take account of current levels of inflation”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is the Scottish Government’s view that Parliament should have the best possible information about the costs and/or savings arising from proposed legislation. Bills and their accompanying documents, including the financial memorandum, are considered for their compliance with standing order requirements before they can be introduced.

“Extensive work was undertaken with a host of delivery partners, in addition to full public consultation, to produce the financial memorandum for this Bill. It sets out around £12m of annual public spending and has detailed forecasts on key measures across the legislation.

“Holyrood standing orders place specific requirements ahead of a Bill being introduced – including on costs – and all Bills are reviewed by the Parliamentary authorities. These projections were published last year. Of course, matters have developed. Inflation has increased, which the Scottish Government could not have forecast and which the committee itself acknowledges. The stage one process has also brought some helpful additional detail, and updated information, to light. That is part of the Bill process.”

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