SPICe has been looking at the 2023-24 Budget through the lens of human rights budgeting. This is based around three key principles: transparency, participation and accountability. In another recent blog, we took a look at the transparency of the budget documentation. This blog looks to further this by taking a closer look at the data supplied by the Scottish Government to support the budget.
Before we get started, it is worth saying that the Scottish Government is currently undertaking a project to increase the transparency and accessibility of budgetary information. The Government also provides reasonably detailed budgetary information to “Level 3” in the Budget document itself. Alongside the Budget document, more detailed information is also published. This “Level 4” data is useful for looking at how the Government prioritises spending at a lower level and for committees to analyse spending plans.
If we look at how this compares across the nations of the UK, the Scottish Government provides a high level of detail compared to other governments. The UK government for example only provides the Statement document and some data on policy costings, which provides only high level detail on spending decisions. The Welsh Government provides probably the closest to the Scottish Government’s level 4 data with their Detailed Draft Budget Proposals.
What are the issues?
From looking at the data and the budget documentation there are two main issues:
- Matching data to policy commitments – are we able see how much resource is being allocated to deliver a particular government policy priority?
- Level of detail – is there enough detail to understand what the budget line is going to be used for?
To illustrate this, we will now look at a few examples from this year’s budget.
Affordable Housing Supply Programme (AHSP)
“We will also invest £752 million in the affordable housing supply programme (AHSP)” – Scottish Budget 2023-24
The budget document states that the Scottish Government will invest £752 million in the Affordable Housing Supply Programme this year. The £752 million is comprised of:
- capital grant
- Financial Transaction (FT) resources gross of any income from FTs received (FTs can only be used to make loans to or equity investments in private sector bodies)
- money allocated to Glasgow City Council and the City of Edinburgh Council. via the Transfer of Management of Development Funding (TMDF) arrangements.
But it’s difficult to work this out from the budget document text or tables. Table 5.03 of the budget document provides the housing budget, but there is no reference to the TMDF resources which are contained in the local government tables (Table 5.15). And the FT totals in Table 5.03 are provided net of estimated FT income whereas the ASHP figure is gross of FT income. The Scottish Government do publish a report on the ASHP which outlines the detail of the budget. However, this a retrospective look and is based on out-turn figures.
“Over this Parliament we will make available at least £1.8 billion for heat and energy efficiency projects across Scotland.” - Heat in Buildings Strategy - achieving net zero emissions in Scotland's buildings
Tracking this money is difficult. In the budget statement on 15 December the Deputy First Minister outlined “£366 million planned investment in the Heat in Buildings Programme to decarbonise heating”. On inspection of the budget data though it is not possible to figure out where this £366 million figure comes from. In the level 4 data, “Energy Heat in Buildings and Low Carbon” amounts to £154.5 million and “Fuel Poverty/Energy Efficiency” amounts to £195.0 million, a total of £349.5 million.
In a letter to the Net Zero, Energy and Transport committee last year, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport set out the proposed spending profile of the Heat in Buildings Strategy to 2026 which included £1.3 billion of “committed spending”. In the letter the Cabinet Secretary does highlight that the figures are not exhaustive to allow the programme to be more reactive to emerging issues. While this information is useful, the lack of detail makes scrutiny difficult.
Social Care budget
“In this Budget we…. provide £1.7 billion for social care and integration to improve services while paving the way for the introduction of the National Care Service.” – Scottish budget 2023-24
So where does this money come from? Health and social care budgets are difficult to track as money is transferred from the health budget to local government, and local authorities then provide funding to integration authorities. If we look at the level 4 data for the health and social care portfolio, it shows a total of £1.2 billion under the heading ‘National Care Service / Adult Social Care’. This figure also appears in Table 4.02 of the main budget document. However, even from the detailed Level 4 data, it is not clear how much of this £1.2 billion total relates to the National Care Service (despite this being one of the most significant pieces of legislation currently being considered by the Parliament). It is also unclear how much is to be transferred from the health budget to local authorities in respect of social care. Table 5.16 of the main budget document identifies transfers to local government from other portfolio areas, but it is not clear which of these are coming from the health and social care budget in relation to social care.
The gap between the £1.2 billion in Table 4.02 and the £1.7 billion in the narrative of the budget document is not explained anywhere in the document itself. The Scottish Government has explained that this difference represents the amount that has been transferred to local authorities for social care in previous years and which is now baselined. However, there is no explanation in the budget document, and the lack of transparency is a concern for such a major policy area.
Combination of budget lines
While level 4 data does provide a high level of detail there are some cases where some of the budget lines have been combined, which makes it more difficult to get the exact detail of the spending commitment. For example:
- Social Care Support and NCS Delivery – making it difficult to identify how much is planned to be spent on the National Care Service.
- Other Board Services and Miscellaneous Income – the inclusion of COVID-19 recovery costs make it difficult to identify how much has been assigned to this budget. Also combining income and expenditure data in the same budget line makes it impossible to separate how much is being spent from the sources of income. It would be better to show income sources as a separate figure for clarity.
As said at the start, it is good for scrutiny that the Scottish Government publishes data at a detailed level and that they are working on improving the budget in general. When compared across the UK we can see that the level of detail in the data provided by the Scottish Government is higher than most. However, from these examples we can see that work still needs to be done to help Parliament and wider society scrutinise spending decisions.
Andrew Aiton, Data Visualisation Manager