Open Government Action Plan commitment 4: be more accountable for public services

Progress reports on our commitment to improve accountability of public services as part of our open government action plan.

Commitment overview

The problem 

How public services are held to account in Scotland is complicated. It can be challenging for people to know how to share their views, resolve a problem or hold public services to account at an individual, organisational, sectoral or national level. A lack of understanding and certainty around how public services are held to account can make people feel powerless, frustrated or uninvolved.

What we're doing 

This commitment is split into two parts. Part 1 is led jointly by scrutiny bodies and regulators, and part 2 is led by us. The two parts are linked and each part will support the other to help solve this problem.

Part 1: Understanding accountability and improving people’s access to accountability processes

Under part 1, scrutiny bodies and regulators will commit to working together to improve the public’s understanding of and access to accountability processes. This will include:

  • understanding current public service scrutiny and regulatory bodies (their decisions and the public’s access to them);
  • working with a wide range of people and partners to see how people would like to use their rights to complain, appeal or assess how public bodies perform, and what the barriers are to this; and
  • finding ways to improve access to information on who is responsible and strengthen people’s ability to hold public services to account.

Part 2: A citizen-focused approach to public services

Accountability isn’t just about reacting when things go wrong. It must be fixed firmly throughout public services. Taking account of the work of part 1 of this commitment, we will:

  • develop ways of considering the effect of public policy and decision-making on people; and
  • use the principles of open government in establishing Consumer Scotland as the newly devolved consumer advocacy body.

How that will help

Both parts of this commitment aim to help you understand how you can make public services accountable. They will improve your ability to influence issues and hold public services to account.
We expect this commitment to:

  • improve the quality of information on public-service accountability and make it easier to access and use; and
  • make it easier for you to use public services and find support to sort out issues.


How we're doing

Part 1

In partnership with a range of civic society representatives and public service scrutiny bodies, we have taken a number of steps to begin to address the challenge of access to accountability processes in Scotland.  An overview of key actions is presented below.

  1. Stage 1: Understanding the Landscape
    • During 2019 we commissioned a baseline evidence review and analysis – undertaken by EKOS Consultants – to better understand, and set out some key parameters of the commitment moving forwards, as well as a general awareness of some existing approaches to public engagement in accountability processes to help inform good practice across the wider landscape moving forwards.
    • Terms such as “public services” and the meaning of “accountability” processes in practice were considered.
    • A “map” of existing scrutiny and accountability bodies for public services in Scotland was produced, identifying key roles, remits, responsibilities, and access channels for members of the public to seek support or inform the accountability process.
  2. Stage 2: Public and Practitioner Engagement
    • Over the course of late 2019 to mid- 2020, we undertook a programme of wider engagement to understand the key challenges, barriers and opportunities related to improving access to accountability of public sectors, informed by the baseline work carried out by EKOS.
    • This work was delivered in two complementary parts. 
      1. Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) – an original signatory to the commitment – commissioned a YouGov survey to explore levels of general understanding amongst members of the public concerning public service complaints processes and the role and support available through key scrutiny bodies, including, for example, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Office and Audit Scotland.  A sample of 1,003 people representative of the Scottish population participated.
      2. The consultants, We Are Snook, conducted a package of public and practitioner engagement, including interviews and workshops as well as co-design solutions focused events.  Over 70 people living in Scotland took part in the location based workshops.  This culminated in a recommendations report.
  3. Stage 3: Pilot Solutions Delivery
    • In response to some of the indicative findings produced through the engagement work, partners agreed to a pilot Scottish public services accountability information and signposting booklet be developed by CAS.  The booklet will provide an overview of the role, remit, functions, access channels and types of frontline support that a selection of key scrutiny bodies can provide people living in Scotland.  It will also offer guidance on Freedom of Information requests. 
    • Due to social distancing, the booklet will be hosted online only.


In addition to the above, the partners to Commitment 4 are in the process of developing a short insights report, which will summarise key considerations gathered to date under this work-stream and present ideas for how best the theme of Accountability of Public Services can be taken forwards under a third national action plan, building on the work to date.  This will be presented to the central Steering Group for consideration in due course, subject to any further impacts created by the on-going pandemic.

Part 2

  • New Consumer Scotland body continues to be developed in line with good practice approaches to transparency and openness:
  • Consumer Scotland Act was given Royal Assent on 9 June 2020, following a process of consultation and Scottish Parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill.
  • Independent Chair continues to be involved in Public Appointments Panel for Board members – applications have been invited publically, closed in December 2020 and Board appointments are expected to be made in Spring 2021.

The creation of Consumer Scotland has been delayed  as a consequence of the covid pandemic.  This has now been resumed and its board will lead engagement on its future work program ensuring it reflects the needs of the Scottish consumer.  Consumer Scotland will also provide leadership amongst advice bodies and support greater clarity as to where to go for support and, where appropriate, will support co-ordination of activity.

The Consumer Scotland Act also introduces a duty on public bodies to give due regard to consumer interests during strategic decision making, and in conjunction with Consumer Scotland guidance will be given to public bodies to support this.  An initial step will be to consult as to which public bodies this duty should apply to.


Milestones have evolved through delivery of commitment - please see previous updates for details

Milestones Progress

Engage with Commitment Signatories

✔ Complete

Form civil society partnerships working group

✔ Complete

Commission baseline research into accountability landscape

✔ Complete

Public and practitioner engagement work procured

✔ Complete

Social Research: Peoples survey design – Collaborative Working Group workshop w/contractors

✔ Complete

Holyrood Events Ltd. public service practitioners event

✔ Complete

Social Research: survey dissemination

✔ Complete

 Snook: Interviews

✔ Complete

Snook: Peoples workshops x 9 (Scotland wide)

✔ Complete

Snook: Service delivery, scrutiny & regulatory bodies consultation event x 1

✔ Complete

Snook: Solutions development workshop

✔ Complete

Snook: Research analysis & recommendations report debrief session

✔ Complete

Chair’s Discussion Paper – Delivery Stocktake & Options Stage 3

✔ Complete

Commitment Leads & Signatories meeting to decide next steps

✔ Complete

CAS Booklet – development

🙂 On Track

Commitment 4 Programme Insights Report

🙂 On Track
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