SCOTLAND’S auditor general has warned that the country “remains riven by inequalities” as he criticised a "major implementation gap between policy ambitions and delivery on the ground”.

Stephen Boyle has urged caution over short-term targets and warned not enough focus has been placed on preventative measures by public bodies.

Writing in a blog, he insisted there is a “mismatch” between the Scottish Government’s vision for Scotland “where poverty is reduced and economic growth is sustainable” and “how we assess public sector performance”.

The auditor general’s intervention comes 10 years after the Christie report was published, which he said “set out an inspiring agenda for change that would put people at the heart of public services”.

But Mr Boyle has warned that “Scotland remains riven by inequalities – in wealth, in education, in health and opportunity”.

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He added: “We face huge challenges in renewing our society and our economy in the aftermath of the pandemic, while climate change looms larger and more frightening than ever.”

Mr Boyle stressed that “concerted action has been taken” to attempt to roll out progressive policies, pointing to community empowerment and self-directed support over the last 10 years, but he warned that “audit work consistently shows a major implementation gap between policy ambitions and delivery on the ground”.

The auditor general pointed to a 2017 report on self-directed support “that found that after seven years, not everyone was getting the choice and control over their care” that the policy had envisioned.

He added: “In a similar vein, my joint report earlier this year with the Accounts Commission on improving education outcomes found that progress on closing the poverty-related attainment gap between the most and least deprived school pupils had been limited.”

But Mr Boyle warned there was “no single or simple answer” to making improvements needed.

He stressed that the Christie report called for a shift towards prevention and “deliver improved long-term outcomes for individual and communities”.

Mr Boyle said: “But we still measure the success of public services by short-term, service-specific measures. Waiting times are important when you are waiting in A&E, for example, but tell us nothing about whether the nation’s health is improving.

“We’ve recently seen Scotland’s drug deaths reach record levels. People in the most deprived parts of Scotland were 18 times more likely to have a drug-related death as those in the least deprived. How much more effective could spending have been if interventions tackled the root causes of drug addiction in our communities?”

He added: “We all need to rethink radically how we measure success and hold organisations to account for their performance.”

Mr Boyle said that “our collective appetite for risk-taking and innovation” and how public sector leaders are held accountable “also needs to change”, stressing that “we have to give our leaders the space, time and incentives to take managed risks”.

Turning to the pandemic, Mr Boyle said “we’ve seen public bodies disobeying organisational boundaries”, being able to deliver the needed changes at scale and pace”.

He added that “it’s been truly impressive and shows what can be done”, but warned it happened “because it was life and death”.

Mr Boyle added: “There was a clear imperative that trumped everything else.

“It would be another tragedy if the same urgency wasn't now applied to poverty, education, health and strengthening our communities.”