Open Government action plan 2021 to 2025 - commitment 1: fiscal openness and transparency
Overview of the fiscal openness and transparency commitment, including milestones and their co-creation process, alongside progress reports submitted throughout the action plan.
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Fiscal Openness and Transparency – improving the accessibility and usability of our data and information about the public finances.
We will improve the accessibility and usability of our data and information about public finances, to enable better understanding and scrutiny for a wide range of users, including citizens. This means continuously working to improve how open and transparent we are in Scotland, benchmarked alongside other countries and approaches, about the status, processes, and direction of our public finances.
2021 to 2025
Lead implementing directorate
Scottish Exchequer (performance, tax, budget and public spending and infrastructure), Scottish Procurement and Property Directorate, Financial Management
Civil society stakeholders
- Open Government Partnership (lead non-government stakeholder)
- Open Data Cooperative
- Glasgow Caledonian University; Equalities and Budget Advisory Group
- Scottish human rights Commission
- Young Scot
- Infrastructure Transparency Initiative
- The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
- Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
As the process of devolution has progressed, increased fiscal powers have seen the Scottish Government move from a predominantly spending government to one that now raises a significant portion of its own revenue, up to 36% in 2019-20. This means the Scottish Government has more autonomy or choice about the levers it can use to implement economic and social policy decisions to progress the National Outcomes in the National Performance Framework. The additional powers and responsibilities are intended to improve financial accountability and scrutiny; however they have also led to greater complexity.
We are aware from a range of sources and engagement with stakeholders and citizens that there is more government can do to improve the transparency of financial, procurement and performance information. We also know, from our Fiscal Transparency Discovery Report, taken forward as part of our commitment on financial transparency in the previous Action Plan, that the current fiscal information is not easily accessible or presented in a way that meets most users' needs. These challenges include:
- the Scottish Parliament and human rights / equalities organisations have called for improved published fiscal information
- Open Government stakeholders have called for better information to enable them to "follow the money" from revenue raised to spending choices and outcomes progressed
- the current presentation of information does not compare well with best practice of other Scottish organisations and key comparators internationally
In Scotland's previous Action Plans, we made commitments to improve financial and performance transparency, by explaining how Scotland's public finances work, as well improving how we present information we publish.
Our research from the Fiscal Transparency Discovery exercise, has found that the current picture regarding the production, publication and accessibility of fiscal information in Scotland presents a complex landscape with at least 10 separate parts of the Scottish Government and associated public sector organisations who own and publish core fiscal information – in over 40 separate regular outputs and additional ad hoc outputs. There are also a number of external organisations who interpret and publish fiscal information.
The current outputs are fragmented across many websites and are not easily accessible, as content, format and communication are not always consistent and user-centred. In addition there is a limited amount of open data published, with infrequent use of dynamic data visualisations or accessible and short summary documents.
User research has shown that external users are frustrated with scattered information; disjointed timelines, impenetrable nature of the current outputs and processes; inflexible and unusable documents as well as inconsistent data.
User research with external stakeholders, conversations with internal stakeholders, and international research has identified goals and potential benefits of improved government fiscal transparency services and what these services should look like. This sets out a clear ambition but further detailed and technical work is required to map out how to progress this in ways which achieve real change that can be sustained over time.
Our goal is comprehensive, accurate, trustworthy, timely and linked fiscal information that is accessible, usable and understandable to a wide range of users, including citizens, including open fiscal data that people can easily reuse.
These goals support collaboration with other publishers and users of fiscal information to achieve joint transparency aims, as well as to improve stakeholder and citizen understanding, engagement and participation on public finances. We will:
- benchmark progress on fiscal openness and transparency
- establish an approach to assess progress of fiscal openness and transparency, moving towards international best practices and transparency and data standards
- improve the accessibility of fiscal information
- implement the Fiscal Transparency Discovery Report recommendations to improve the quality, coverage, presentation and standards of current fiscal data
- deliver a procurement management information platform to improve data standards, demonstrate the impact of public sector procurement on Scotland’s economy – identifying opportunities to maximise delivery of outcomes at a local and national level
- improve the transparency around the Scottish Budget, reviewing the accessibility and usability of existing and future information and guidance
- improve engagement and participation
- build on previous engagement and best practice to develop a multi stakeholder approach to the next Infrastructure Investment Plan
- build on previous engagement, striving for a best practice approach to engagement, ensuring that we use our tax powers in a transparent policy making process
- develop an approach that builds on best practice, to ensure high-quality engagement and participation in the review of the National Outcomes
(Milestones will be updated accordingly)
Benchmark progress on fiscal openness and transparency
- review other approaches/international best practice to assess our progress on fiscal openness and transparency
Improve the accessibility of fiscal information
- establish a programme to take forward recommendations of the Fiscal Transparency Discovery Report. In 2022 we will review existing data to improve structuring, standardisation and data visualisation in the development of a fiscal portal pilot. We will involve stakeholders and engage with a range of users who use fiscal information to inform the development of this work
- establish a procurement management information platform, to delivering improvements to reporting and analytical capability
- review the accessibility and usability of information and guidance produced for the 2022-23 Autumn Budget Revision and ‘Your Scotland, Your Finances’ publication. Over the period of the Action Plan, we will continue to involve a range of stakeholders through our ongoing work on budget improvement
Improve engagement and participation
- review best practice approaches to public engagement to support the development of the next Infrastructure Investment Plan. Including a multi-stakeholder approach to developing the infrastructure Needs Assessment
- publish a Framework for Tax, informed by wide ranging engagement, to provide a foundation on which tax policy work in Scotland is based
- develop with stakeholders an animated video campaign to explain Scotland’s devolved tax powers and the link between taxation and public spending
How the commitment will contribute to solving the problem described above
Delivering this commitment will:
- improve public participation in government policy and enhance the approach into how resource allocations are made, providing opportunities for stakeholders and citizens to express their views, leading to more effective polices and improved outcomes
- provide a fuller understanding of how public finances are managed to increase trust in government data, and to enable stakeholders to explore how, where and why decisions are taken
- enhance financial accountability by improving the efficiency with which data is produced and published, enable more effective consultations, and provide information that is more open, accessible, reusable and understandable for a wide range of users
- overall the commitment will improve how the Scottish Government compares with best practice of other Scottish organisations and key international comparators
Open Government Partnership value this commitment is relevant to
- access to Information
- civic participation
- public accountability
- technology and innovation for transparency and accountability
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