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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
26 October 2023
Audit Scotland: Public sector reforms must consider workforce impact

The Scottish Government is working with its public bodies to better understand how workforce reforms will impact services | Alamy

Audit Scotland: Public sector reforms must consider workforce impact

The Scottish Government needs to act quickly to deliver services differently, according to a report from Audit Scotland.  

Published today, it argues that the government’s public sector reforms must support the workforce to manage the change, rather than “simply doing more with less”.  

Audit Scotland says that the Scottish Government’s projections suggest it cannot afford to pay for public services in their current form. 

In addition, pay deals agreed for 2022/23 and 2023/24 were £1.7 billion more than initially planned and are locked into future budgets. 

The Scottish Government is working with its public bodies to better understand how workforce reforms will impact services. But Audit Scotland says the government needs better data on the size, cost and skillset of the workforce in over 100 of its public bodies to help support this process. 

The report also warns the Scottish Government should “expect changes in workforce numbers by public body based on existing workforce plans”. 

Since devolution in 1999, the Scottish Government’s workforce has grown significantly, rising from under 150,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees in 1999/00 to over 245,000 in 2022/23 – an increase of around 65 per cent. 

Auditor General for Scotland Stephen Boyle said: “Significant reform of the public sector – including its workforce - is needed to protect services over the long term.  

“That means better workforce planning and wider changes to how staff work within and across organisations.  

“An approach to reform purely focused on controlling workforce numbers will not address workforce pressures and is unlikely to balance the public finances.” 

The Scottish Conservatives spokesperson for finance Liz Smith said: “This is a stark warning from the Auditor-General to the SNP government that our essential public services risk becoming unaffordable due to the widening black hole in their finances. 

“The large growth in the size of the Scottish government workforce means that the higher pay deals agreed will be a major component of the Scottish budget. 

“The SNP, which has received record funding from the UK Government, needs to be honest and transparent about how it intends to fund these. Scotland is already the highest taxed part of the UK, so Humza Yousaf must rule out widening that tax gap further to plug the black hole his government has created.” 

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