Scottish Government 'needs to be more transparent on Covid spending’

The Scottish Government and public sector bosses need to be more transparent about how one-off Covid funding is being spent, watchdogs have said.

A joint report by the Auditor General for Scotland and the Accounts Commission found the Government “struggled to maintain transparency” as it responded to the pandemic.

However, it said ministers “responded quickly to a very difficult situation”.

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Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

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The report found the Government spent an estimated £11.8 billion responding to Covid up to December last year.

Ministers allocated £15.5bn to their Covid response in 2020/21 and 2021/22.

Andrew McRae, Scotland policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses, suggested any leftover cash could be reallocated “to help firms weather the current energy storm”.

He said: “Repurposed grant funding could help businesses make investments to reduce both their bills and their carbon emissions.”

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The new report found the Government “worked collaboratively and at pace with local and UK Government to direct significant public spending in difficult circumstances”.

However, the watchdogs said it was “hard to see how some financial decisions were reached”.

The report said: “It is vital for transparency and financial planning that the Scottish Government and other public bodies are clear about how one-off Covid‑19 funding has been spent, including where spending commitments may last for several years.”

It said the Government managed its overall budget well, but “struggled to maintain transparency, which limited scrutiny”.

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Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “While the SNP Government have boasted about the Covid support they provided, Audit Scotland estimate that, up to the end of last year, they had spent well over £2bn less than they were given by the UK Government.

“A gap between Nationalist rhetoric and delivery is typical – but the watchdog’s alarming conclusion is that we simply don’t know how, where, or even whether, these funds were spent. That’s simply unacceptable.

“It’s damning – yet predictable – that the auditors find the Government ‘struggled to maintain transparency’, hampering the watchdog’s ability to scrutinise the accounts."

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said the report “lays bare the secrecy and mismanagement at the heart of this SNP Government”.

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Auditor General Stephen Boyle said: “The Scottish Government and public bodies worked well together to distribute money during the pandemic, but lessons should be learned to improve planning for any future large-scale disruptions.

“It is vital for transparency and financial planning that the Scottish Government and other public bodies are clear about how one-off Covid-19 funding is being spent, including money in reserves.

“More work is also needed by the Scottish Government to collect the data that will allow it to understand the difference its interventions have made and plan the country's recovery from Covid.”

Finance secretary Kate Forbes said the Government worked to “safeguard lives, businesses, jobs and livelihoods, acting as quickly and efficiently as possible to support people and businesses”.

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She said: “It is important to remember the severity of the pandemic and that decisions were taken at pace as we considered how best to allocate funding to support business and people through the necessary public health restrictions.”

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