The quality, management and delivery of public services in Scotland has been slammed in a cross-party parliamentary report highlighting instances of wasted money, expensive and unnecessary payoffs to departing staff and poor delivery of vital services.

The reports concludes, among other damning judgments:

• It can’t be sure that public money is being spent wisely.

• Instances of unacceptably poor governance and squandering of public money.

• There is no evidence that additional cash put into childcare and early learning has improved the quality of service or outcomes.

• There is no national data on school attendances and it is impossible to discover how much is spent on young people’s mental health services and whether it is effective.

• A “multiplicity” of planning layers in the NHS, including new ones, has led to a lack of clarity about what they do, and that health service governance in “confusing”.

• Severance packages to some departing senior staff are “a reward for failure”.

The seven-person Public Audit Committee – three SNP and two each from Labour and Conservative – was chaired by Labour MSP Jenny Marra.

Marra told The Herald of Sunday that the committee “has looked at 50 reports and we become increasingly frustrated to see the same issues arise again and again".

“Unless the Scottish Government and other public sector leaders begin to significantly address the problems we have highlighted today then the same issues will continue to impact public services,” she said.

In 2011 the Christie Commission – chaired by formed STUC boss Campbell Christie – reported on the reform of public services in Scotland. It set a series of priorities which included tightening oversight and accountability, improving performance and cost reduction, greater transparency and better long-term planning.

In what can only be taken as an implied criticism of the SNP Government, the Marra report concludes that scrutiny of “successive audit reports” suggests that many of the priorities are not being delivered.

“The Committee,” it records, “continues to see evidence of lack of data on key policy implementation; confusion over intended outcomes and board members struggling to hold to account senior management in relation to key budgetary decisions.”

Eight years ago Christie recommended that, because of Scotland’s cycle of deprivation, there should be a shift in spending from intervention to prevention. "It is estimated that as much as 40% of all spending on public services is accounted for by interventions that could have been avoided by prioritising a preventative approach," the commission said.

The SNP Government’s then-Finance Secretary, John Swinney, welcomed the report.

However, there is no indication in the current findings that there has been a noticeable improvement, although the committee does not speculate on the amount of public money which could be saved.

It does point out that evidence from a number of audit reports it has scrutinised suggests that progress has been “small scale” and that public-sector bodies still struggle to meet demand. “This is no more evident than in the NHS”, it reports.

It adds that because data on outcomes to key service provision was incomplete or missing, the committee “could not be reassured” that – particularly in childcare and young people’s mental health provision – public funds were being spent wisely and whether they actually made a difference.

“The Government did not set out how it evaluates success,” it says. I was therefore impossible to conclude whether the changes were value for money. “There is no evidence that additional investment has improved the quality of ELC [early learning and childcare] services.”

In relation to a series of high-profile IT failures the conclusion is that public-sector organisations embarking on new projects rarely have the right skills and experience and instead rely on outside consultants. On its superfast broadband programme – through Community Broadband Scotland, set up to provide support to rural communities – there was a lack of procurement and technical skills and all of the parties involved underestimated the complexities.

Large payoffs to departing senior staff – particularly at the Scottish Police Authority and NHS Tayside – are criticised for being lavish in what it considers a reward for failure.

Other evidence of failures in governance are, in part, due to the quality of public authority board members, with some boards not appointing the statutorily required number of members, while well-qualified applicants were not even appointed.

The well-publicised failures of NHS Tayside – it overspent by at least £45m – are also itemised, citing an independent report by Grant Thornton: “Often updates appeared to be verbal and from the reading the papers that were presented we note: they were lengthy, confusing and hard to follow, particularly if you were of a non- finance background; they throughout the year presented a positive position, even when certain aspects of the Board’s activities were overspending.””

Tayside also held on to funds which were intended for other boards. “The true status of the monies and the fact that they would require to be repaid was apparently not evident in the reports to the board,” it says witheringly.

Staff shortages in the NHS also results in boards having to hire agency staff and locums, with 13 of the 14 health boards overspending because of that. But while there was a decrease in agency spending in 2018 it still amounted to £166 million.

NHS Highland, last year, spent almost £900,000 alone on just two locum clinicians. Thirty-six consultant positions were also vacant, at a cost £15m in locums to cover.

The Marra committee is now calling for a widespread debate about the conclusions of its report.

John O'Connell chief executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance: "The report's conclusions are very worrying and quite frankly embarrassing given the promises made by the Scottish government. The tax burden is at a near 50 year high and taxpayers are rightly demanding more for their hard earned cash.

"Scots deserve world-leading public services, and it seems that dramatic changes in both organisational structure and how taxpayers' cash is spent are needed."