The Scottish Government moved at pace with its partners to respond financially to the pandemic. But public sector leaders need to be clearer about how one-off Covid-19 funding is being spent and what impact it has had.
The Scottish Government worked with councils, NHS boards and other public sector bodies to direct billions of Covid-19 funding in difficult circumstances. However, they were not prepared for the scale or speed of the response required and lessons need to be learned.
Spending decisions were recorded differently across government departments, and it was not always clear how data was used to inform funding allocations. Decisions were not centrally collated, making it hard to see how some financial decisions were reached. So far, there has also been limited evaluation of the difference the financial response to the pandemic has made to people’s lives.
The Scottish Government managed its budget effectively over the last two years, but some Covid-19 funding remains unspent. At the end of 2020/21 over £2 billion was added to reserves by the Scottish Government, councils and integration authorities – but it is not possible to say how much of that is from Covid-19 funding.
Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said:
The Scottish Government and public bodies worked well together to distribute money during the pandemic, but lessons should be learned to improve planning for any future large-scale disruptions.
It is vital for transparency and financial planning that the Scottish Government and other public bodies are clear about how one-off Covid-19 funding is being spent, including money in reserves.
More work is also needed by the Scottish Government to collect the data that will allow it to understand the difference its interventions have made and plan the country's recovery from Covid.
William Moyes, Chair of the Accounts Commission, said:
Councils played an important role in the financial response to Covid-19 because of their local knowledge and the systems they had in place to distribute money.
Pandemic spending largely protected councils and other public bodies over the last two years. But the financial challenges they were facing pre-Covid remain, and council budgets are particularly under pressure.
Many services relied on one-off Covid-19 funding to remain sustainable, and it’s important that there is clarity about how they will be paid for in the future.