Swinney is expected to reject super-inspectorate plan suggested by recent Crerar report

A RADICAL proposal to replace Scotland's growing number of inspectors, auditors, regulators and "tsars" with a single scrutiny organisation has been ruled out by ministers.

John Swinney, the cabinet secretary for finance, has decided against merging the 43 regulators in Scotland into one body, The Scotsman has learned.

Swinney's decision, which has yet to be confirmed in public, came after a Holyrood debate on the plans put forward by Professor Lorne Crerar's report into regulation, audit, inspection and complaints-handling in public services.

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The debate in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday revealed broad support across the political parties for a rationalisation of the audit, scrutiny and complaints in the public sector.

However, only one MSP, Keith Brown, the SNP member for Ochil, argued Crerar's key recommendation, of having one overarching scrutiny organisation, should be implemented.

While not setting out his decision in the debate, which was held to gauge the feelings of parliament, Swinney has decided that there is a general consensus against the creation of a "super-scrutiny" body.

The Scotsman understands the minister will now come forward with proposals which use the current "best value" inspection regime for councils as the basis for scrutiny.

The idea will be that public bodies, including the health service, would have to conform to the best value principles - providing measurable value for taxpayers' money and continuous improvement in services.

However, ministers will insist that there be a greater emphasis on "proportionate" inspections based on an assessment of risk and the possible benefits of scrutiny set against the cost - something Crerar recommended.

In practice, this would mean that if inspectors give a good report to, for example, to a school, care home or social services department, they will not return to reinspect as frequently as they would to a service in which they find problems.

Swinney told MSPs in the debate that the recommendations made by Crerar on continuous improvement were based on the principle that responsibility for providing assurance about services and identifying areas for improvement should "primarily rest with the service providers".

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He added: "It must be right that we embed that approach into the culture of service delivery in our schools, hospitals, police forces and other areas of public service.

"We must encourage a culture of continuous improvement in the way in which services are delivered.

"A reduced level of scrutiny and a more proportionate application of it could free up delivery organisations to focus further on improving their frontline services."

He argued that this would require improvements in performance management arrangements and that it was the Scottish Government's view that the basis for these improved arrangements lay in the best-value regime.

Swinney said the Accounts Commission, the local authority statutory watchdog, was reviewing best-value audits for local government and would consider that approach alongside the Crerar review.

He added: "I am sympathetic to the idea of best value acting as a trigger for a proportionate level of scrutiny".

Tom McCabe, the former finance minister, who ordered the Crerar review, echoed the sentiments of most MSPs in welcoming the suggestion that inspection should be proportional and based on cost-benefit analysis.

McCabe said: "I very much agree with Professor Crerar's recommendation that all reviews should assess the scope for amalgamating bodies with common interests.

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"One body may well be a step too far, but surely a reduction would go a long way to reduce the amount of professional officer time that is consumed in preparing for multiple inspections."

In contrast, Brown told the debate he wanted to "gently break" the consensus on Crerar's call for one inspections body.

He said: "We should have a single agency in mind when the issue is being considered and we should only consider as exceptions agencies that can prove that there is a good reason why they should be part of the single agency."