By Jennifer Wallace

SCOTLAND has a bad case of implementation deficit disorder. We have world-leading legislation in fields including climate change, homelessness and public health. But our outcomes, particularly those affecting children, are stubbornly resistant to change.

The National Performance Framework, which guides the work of the Scottish Government, included six outcomes relating directly to children and young people measured by 14 indicators. The wellbeing of children is not improving for any of the indicators we have data for. And this data all comes from before the pandemic so we should not realistically anticipate improvements for some time.

The children’s sector has much evidence on how to improve these outcomes by investing earlier in children’s lives and acting in a joined-up, preventative way. Yet this evidence fails to shift the emphasis of intervention further up, to root causes of inequality and poverty that diminish child wellbeing. In Scotland, we have an inability to move money towards things we know would have a medium to long-term impact. In an era of consistently strained finances, it’s understandable that funds are channelled towards instant results. But this is both inefficient and loses sight of the long game.

That’s why publication today of a major report, Being Bold: Building Budgets for Children’s Wellbeing, by Dr Katherine Trebeck of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance and commissioned by Carnegie UK Trust, Children in Scotland and Cattanach, is significant. Through the report we urge the Scottish Government to make a fundamental shift in how budgeting is conceived.

The report includes detailed recommendations on how to develop outcomes-based budgeting and the longer-term transformation that will be required. This includes the need for a post-Covid comprehensive spending review; upskilling of the civil service and other agencies so they can interrogate policies and budgets that fund them with regards to how they impact rights and wellbeing; and a move to a more transparent, participatory budget-making process. We call for annual budgets to be recast as longer-term goals linked to cross-party consensus about reducing inequality and fighting poverty, not tied to partisan point-scoring and retail politics.

The report proposes ambitious changes in process and culture. We know even getting an answer to the question "how much do we spend on young children" is complex and challenging. It is simply not how we think about public budgets and accountability.

But being bold is vital – never more so than now.

As we head towards the election campaign, the case for wellbeing budgeting informs Children in Scotland’s manifesto for 2021-26, backed by organisations across our sector. And we are in agreement with the Finance Committee of the Scottish Parliament, which first started calling for better linkages of the budget to outcomes in 2000.

The pandemic has exposed deep inequalities in our society, but also a deep appetite for renewal. Making the changes proposed in our report would help heal Scotland’s implementation deficit disorder and mark a major contribution to our collective goal: happier, healthier children.

Jennifer Wallace is Head of Policy at The Carnegie UK Trust