SCOTTISH ministers must be “more transparent” about how they are spending vast sums of taxpayers’ money in response to the Covid pandemic, the country’s public finance watchdog has said. 

Stephen Boyle, the Auditor General for Scotland, said the Scottish Government had to be “more proactive” in explaining how its announcements related to efforts on the ground.

Mr Boyle today published a report on the Scottish Government’s consolidated accounts for 2020/21, which cover the first full year of the pandemic.

They show spending rose “significantly”, up £10.7billion, or 27 per cent, on the previous a year to £50.1bn, of which £8.6bn came as Barnett funding formula “consequentials” as the Treasury ramped up spending for the NHS and businesses.

Overall, the Scottish Government underspent its budget by £580m last year. 

The resource budget was underspent by £373m (0.8%) against a budget of £48.6bn and capital was underspent by £207m (9.7%) against a budget of £2.1bn. 

Mr Boyle also highlighted the Government paying out £1.6bn through two business support schemes which carried a “higher than normal” risk of fraud because payments had to be made so quickly.

The Government estimates fraud and error in the schemes to be no more than 1 to 2%  of payments, approximately £16m to £32m.

Mr Boyle said: “The Scottish Government had to act quickly and decisively to respond to the huge threats the pandemic posed to lives, public safety, jobs and the economy

“As a result, it needed to distribute very large amounts of money quickly, and sometimes had to accept higher risk on this than normal. 

"The Scottish Government now needs to be more proactive in showing where and how this money was spent, and show a clearer line from budgets to funding announcements to actual spending.

"This will support scrutiny and transparency of a matter of such significant public interest and importance." 

Labour MSP Richard Leonard, convener of Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee, said: “It is vital that we have robust information to ensure public money is spent effectively.

“While it is understandable that the Scottish Government had to respond swiftly in the early days of the pandemic, we now need full disclosure of where that money went and how effective this spending was.  

“We look forward to considering this report early in the new year and raising these issues directly with the Scottish Government.”

Tory MSP Liz Smith said: “This is all too typical of the SNP.

"They have record funding at their disposal thanks to the UK Government, but have failed to be upfront over where it has been spent.

“Taxpayers deserve to know how billions of pounds of their money was distributed during the pandemic, rather than being kept in the dark over SNP funding decisions.

“As we continue to fight the pandemic, SNP Ministers must urgently commit to making sure Covid spending is as transparent as possible and subject to scrutiny.”

Last year the Auditor General for Scotland said SNP ministers needed to “clearly outline” their future investment plans “to increase transparency and value for money".

Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said: "The broad shoulders of the wider UK economy were integral to helping Scotland weather the covid crisis. At times this meant prioritising distributing funds quickly over counting every penny.  

"Now that there is more breathing space, it's important that the Scottish Government account for how these funds were used and whether money was lost to fraud or errors.

"The Finance Secretary needs to respond to the Auditor General's comments and give an honest accounting of the Scottish Government's Covid spending and in particular whether effort will be put in to reclaiming any money that was mistakenly distributed or fraudulently claimed." 

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “This is the sixteenth consecutive year our accounts have received an unqualified opinion from Audit Scotland, demonstrating the Scottish Government’s sound and transparent management of the country’s finances.

“We have endeavoured to be fully transparent by reporting a further level of detail than what would normally be required by the budgetary and accounting classifications required in these accounts. The Finance Secretary has also detailed to Parliament, through the Budget and regular budget revisions, where the consequential funding is being spent.

“We put the people we serve at the heart of everything we do and, like other governments around the world, we have listened to businesses and tailored our support during this exceptional year to support jobs and the economy to stimulate a sustainable recovery.”


The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.