05 ACCOUNTABILITY AND GOVERNANCE
5.1 Independence is a fundamental principle of effective scrutiny and most scrutiny bodies have a degree of independence from government and from providers. One exception is health, where scrutiny by NHSQIS is internal to the health service, because NHSQIS is itself a special health board, which makes its independence less clear.
5.2 Government will rely on the outcomes of, and often direct the use of, scrutiny.
5.3 If there is to be public and Parliamentary confidence in scrutiny, scrutiny must carry out its duties without inappropriate influence from government because central and local government is often itself part of the service delivery system, either as a funder or policy maker or the negotiator of outcome agreements. It is also important that scrutiny bodies are accountable for their actions and the use they make of resources. As the Parliament's Finance Committee Inquiry into Accountability and Governance made clear, 5 there is currently a range of accountability arrangements for scrutiny bodies. The Review mapping survey also found this divergence as summarised in table 2.
Table 2: -Formal accountability arrangements for scrutiny organisations
Formally accountable to:*
Number of organisations
UK Government Department**
Scottish Parliament ( SPCB or committee)
Scottish Minister and Scottish Parliament
None of the above
Source: Review mapping exercise.
* -As reported to the Review by scrutiny organisations and based on a question with the above options.
** Health and Safety Executive ( DWP)
5.4 Scrutiny bodies have been assigned their functions by Ministers or the Parliament. These fall into two main types:
- Cyclical activity - where a particular service, organisation or sector is subject to assessment on a cyclical basis ( e.g. Audit Scotland Best Value audits, HMIE schools inspections);
- Thematic - where a particular service, policy or theme is assessed across a range of service providers ( e.g. Audit Scotland performance audits, NHSQIS thematic inspections).
5.5 Governance arrangements for scrutiny bodies are diverse and bodies operate under a wide range of governance arrangements and through different organisational structures, see table 3.
Table 3: Range of organisation types
Number of bodies
National Health Service body
Statutory office holder - Ministerial
Statutory office holder - Parliamentary
Source: -Review mapping exercise - includes 36 organisations surveyed plus seven new bodies introduced since the mapping exercise.
5.6 There is no consistent approach to setting up scrutiny bodies and it is not clear why organisations undertaking similar roles have been given different governance arrangements. This variety of governance arrangements means that each scrutiny organisation's work is directed and controlled in different ways, that reporting arrangements differ and that individual scrutiny organisations are directly accountable in different ways. For example, Ministers can instruct executive agencies to do specific pieces of work, but NDPBs must usually, but not in all cases, be instructed by their Board before they can act. Whilst there may be a logic for the governance and accountability arrangements for each of the separate scrutiny regimes, this variety of arrangements overall means that the scrutiny bodies appear to have different levels of independence from government and that accountability across the scrutiny sector is neither transparent nor consistent.
5.7 The complexity of organisational structures is a constraint on a strategic approach to developing and delivering an appropriate scrutiny regime across public services. It can constrain, slow down and sometimes prevent joint working between scrutiny bodies on cross-cutting issues, where there is a need for a co-ordinated response. Most scrutiny organisations are responding to their own statutory responsibilities when drawing up and implementing their work programmes and this may determine the degree of flexibility in the design and scope of their activity and in their capacity to collaborate.
5.8 There is a need to create the conditions to allow a strategic and flexible allocation of scrutiny resources through removing unnecessary constraints to joint working. There is also a need to simplify and bring greater consistency to the scrutiny governance infrastructure. This allows scrutiny to perform its main role in holding to account, and makes governance and accountability more transparent. There should be greater consistency in the way that scrutiny bodies are held to account through the Parliament.
Accountability to Parliament
5.9 Many of the external scrutiny bodies pre-date the Scottish Parliament and relationships to the Parliament are still evolving. Thirty-four of 36 scrutiny bodies in the mapping survey indicated that they had reported or given evidence to one or more Parliamentary committees and many also lay their annual reports at the Parliament. Individual committees may review, query or challenge any of these reports. For example, the Education Committee of the Scottish Parliament considers the annual reports of HMIE. The Audit Committee is most active in taking evidence, but most other Parliamentary Committees do not routinely consider the work of scrutiny organisations.
5.10 We propose a revised model of accountability where independence from Ministers is balanced by responsibility to Parliament. This presents an opportunity to strengthen democratic scrutiny through further refinement of the Parliament's role in the scrutiny process and for Parliament to be more proactive in seeking assurance. This would involve placing a strong and appropriate duty on scrutiny bodies to give an account for their activities and use of resources to the Parliament, which will require adapting the existing governance and reporting arrangements for scrutiny bodies.
Chapter summary and recommendations
- Most scrutiny bodies have a degree of independence from government and from providers, with the exception of health.
- There is no consistent approach to setting up scrutiny bodies and it is not clear why organisations undertaking similar roles have been given different governance arrangements.
- The complexity of organisational structures is a constraint on a strategic approach to developing and delivering an appropriate scrutiny regime across public services. There;is a need to remove constraints to joint working and to simplify the scrutiny governance infrastructure.
- We propose a revised model of accountability where independence from Ministers is balanced by responsibility to Parliament. Parliament should become more proactive in seeking assurance. This would involve placing a strong and appropriate duty on scrutiny bodies to give an account for their activities and use of resources to the Parliament, which will require adapting the existing governance and reporting arrangements for scrutiny bodies.