Research Data Scotland – Full Business Case

The Research Data Scotland (RDS) Full Business Case (FBC) sets out proposals for the establishment of a new national service that has the potential to save time, money and lives.

Executive Summary

'Bad times call for good data...a fragile statistical infrastructure can mean the difference between life and death for millions.'
Tim Harford, Financial Times, 23 April 2021


This Full Business Case (FBC) sets out detailed proposals for the set-up and operation of a new national service delivery entity, which will support improved access to linkage ready public sector datasets for research in the public interest.

The FBC builds on the Outline Business Case (OBC), which was approved by Ministers in early 2021. It follows standard Her Majesty's Treasury (HMT) guidance, and is aligned to both the Green Book and the "5 Cases" Model.

A glossary is included at Appendix One.

Strategic Case

The offering from Scotland around data needs to be much stronger; speed of delivery, ease of access and linking of diverse datasets are impacting on the strength of our offering. There are also challenges with how long it takes to access Scottish data and about the quality and costs of the services required to enable that. More specifically, for academia, this means we are not securing a suitable share of the available UK research funding, and, additionally, public bodies do not have the data to support public service reform.

Data are also dispersed both between and within public sector organisations. For linkage projects that use datasets from multiple data controllers this means multiple data access processes. This can lead to blockages in data being available for research and innovation. In essence, we are currently facing a variety of concurrent challenges, including multiple data controllers; multiple data access processes; and data not always linkage-ready.

To address these particular challenges and realise our ambition for Scotland's data vision we need to make progress in a number of areas. A key improvement is providing a single-entry point for researchers regardless of data controller and offering a seamless access pathway by bringing together and coordinating the various moving parts of the researcher access journey, including the commissioning arrangements.

Research Data Scotland (RDS) will provide a service for accessing public sector datasets that has the potential to save time, money and lives. It will offer safe, secure and cost effective access to data for research, innovation and investment by enabling its users to deliver insight and understanding that will help create a more successful country through increased wellbeing, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and improving the health of the nation. We will work collaboratively with data controllers and users to develop the service while building trust and support from the public.

Scotland has a rich history of public sector data informatics, which has served to enrich and inform our most valued public services. Collaboration in Scotland between academia and the public sector has supported a national model of cross-sectoral research which has delivered path-finding innovation and won numerous civil service awards, delivering key insights and furthering our understanding of some of the most pressing public policy issues.

While this collaboration has proven hugely successful, embedding learning and cultivating long term relationships across organisational and sector boundaries, it has grown out of the efforts of a small number of dedicated individuals and teams across Scotland to make it work. It has also relied on informal collaborative arrangements around services and infrastructure.

This small scale initiative for data linkage has delivered efficient research flexibly; however, more recent innovations in the way public value is added through data mean the system needs to grow and flex if it is to stay relevant and meet the needs of a growing community of users. Changes to the types of data being collected and brought together for analysis, combined with advancing analytical techniques and computing power are placing tensions on a system, which was not designed to service this activity at scale and at pace.

The present work is therefore needed to place the current national arrangements supporting cross-sectoral research on a more formal footing - within an entity to be known as RDS - and to ensure the service model within this possesses the necessary resources, skills and infrastructure to meet changes to demand, technology and legislation.

The strategic case looks at the model proposed under RDS, which will enable services to invest in future proofing, including expanding the range of data that is linkage-ready and available for use in research, whilst creating ongoing efficiencies.

The programme will:

  • Seek the full support of the Scottish public, acting in an open and transparent way
  • Strive to deliver value for money
  • Improve the service quality to users, by improving reliability and efficiencies by responding to the needs of different types of user
  • Maintain/build strong relationships with data controllers, acting under clear information governance (IG) processes
  • Comply with all legal requirements and protect the privacy of citizens and businesses
  • Will build upon the 5 safes principles[1] used for data linkage (safe projects, people, settings, data and outputs).

These expectations will be delivered via a programme of activities covering:

  • Service
  • Public trust and transparency
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Commercial and procurement
  • Safety and security
  • Financial
  • Accountability
  • Legislation.

The services that RDS will oversee, are shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1: Elements of RDS
Chart  showing the services that RDS will oversee

Socio-Economic Case

The first of the five cases in the FBC focuses on setting out the option appraisal, demonstrating public value through specifying a set of success criteria against which each of the possible options for delivering RDS is assessed.

Five delivery options are identified and described. The analysis assesses four strategic options for the service delivery vehicle, alongside the status quo option of maintaining the current informal contracting arrangements. These options were formulated following consultation with internal Scottish Government (SG) colleagues, including legal teams, and external delivery leads.

In addition to following the standard HMT guidance on business cases and being aligned to both the Green Book and the "5 Cases" Model, the FBC is consistent with the wider approach taken by SG in considering the wider socio-economic impacts of spend and policy decisions.

The difference between the various options relates to the structure of the overseeing organisation that will deliver the function of the delivery vehicle and where these functions operate within the existing Scottish public service landscape.

The four options are:

a) Amending the functions of an existing body

b) Amending the functions of the emerging Public Health Scotland (PHS) as an arm's length body

c) Establishing a new standalone public body for RDS

d) Establish a joint venture (e.g. under Section 84B, NHS Act 1978).

These options are compared against the base case "Do Nothing" option, which consists of maintaining the current arrangements.

Following the options appraisal the preferred option highlighted under the socio-economic case is identified as option (d) to establish a Joint Venture, initially with PHS and the University of Edinburgh.

Commercial Case

The procurement path and commercial risk for the establishment of RDS is covered in the commercial case. This section considers the interactions between the legal and governance setup of RDS and the risks associated with contracting and commissioning.

The Commercial Case also sets out the implications for procurement as developed from the initial OBC for RDS. It confirms RDS as a contracting authority and gives more detailed consideration of the associated requirements, proposed sourcing options, commercial considerations and risks. This section also summarises the commercial implications from the joint venture delivery option for RDS. The participation in RDS of public sector bodies, other partners and service providers is a key aspiration and this section of the FBC details the intended vehicle/strategy to achieve this organisational objective. As part of this, contractual and legal considerations are set out.

A brief summary of existing procurement and governance arrangements is presented. Building on the OBC, details have been sought from existing service partners to inform a collective picture of the current legal and contracting landscape in this FBC.

A Legal Working Group (LWG) was convened in 2019 comprising representation from service partner organisations, along with solicitors contracted by SG. The remit of the LWG is to provide information and advice to support the process of identifying options for models for establishing RDS as a legal entity, including the contractual and regulatory requirements. The legal advice has been included in the OBC and the FBC.

From a procurement perspective, the Commercial Case includes a procurement plan with details of what RDS needs to procure in areas including:

  • Office space
  • IT equipment, telephony services
  • Web domain and development
  • Staffing
  • Service development support.

Financial Case

The Financial Case sets out a detailed picture of the financial and funding position for RDS over the first five financial years from the current FY 2021/22. It captures a detailed contemporary account of current income and expenditure associated with the services that will form the service model under RDS. The Financial Case is predicated on a detailed financial model developed specifically for RDS business planning.

Some backdated information on the Scottish Informatics Linkage Collaboration (SILC) funding and financing is presented where this was available. The main sources of income for RDS are identified and modelled, with assumptions and caveats set out. To develop an income profile out to FY 2025/26, it has been anticipated that RDS will take over the revenue-raising function of eDRIS and will combine this with grant income sources, including an agreed £5m annual grant from the SG Health portfolio in each of the five financial years from FY 21/22. Where grant income sources are ring-fenced to a particular activity, this is noted.

Expenditure is driven by demand and by modelling of agreed requirements for RDS to achieve its longer-term objectives. To ensure a sustainable and quality service, staffing levels are modelled on forecast volumes of work.

Existing financial and commissioning arrangements for SILC are described. These identify the current avenues through which funds feed into the existing data linkage service model and currently fund the different cost elements of providing these services. Financial sustainability is addressed, with some reference to how the model was set up and maintained in the past.

To support the financial case, a Financial Working Group (FWG) was established and this group has provided oversight during development of the OBC and the FBC. Throughout the business planning, discussions with funders and partners have taken place to validate the current financial situation and these are highlighted in the 'How could RDS be funded?' section.

Fundamentally, the Financial Case shows that based on the assumed future service model, RDS would be in a surplus position over five years (average surplus of approximately £137k per annum compared to an average annual deficit of £635k for the status quo)) and RDS would be sustainable. This financial position remains sensitive to increased costs and this will require to be monitored as RDS becomes operational.

Management Case

The purpose of the management dimension of the business case is to demonstrate that robust arrangements are in place for the delivery, monitoring and evaluation of RDS, including feedback into the organisation's strategic planning cycle.

It is about effective governance ensuring appropriate scrutiny, monitoring and contract management. Much of this will cover practical issues around what and how the performance of RDS should be monitored against agreed SMART objectives and operational key performance indicators (KPIs).

The management case will also provide details on how and when RDS mobilises through a soft launch and takes responsibility for the current service. Thereafter, there will be a transition to a new Target Operating Model (TOM), and this is also included in this section of the FBC.


This FBC concludes that it is possible to establish RDS to achieve the stated objective of realising greater value from Scotland's data. It will inform our public services and support social and economic development, maintaining public confidence in the appropriate use of data, whilst making access quicker and delivering a more effective service for researchers who want to access data.

The establishment of RDS will build on Scotland's existing investment and expertise to do the following:

  • Deliver a service to researchers enabling secure access to data about Scotland's people, businesses and places for projects in the public good
  • Transform the design, commissioning and funding of processes and services to promote more efficient access to data, whilst maintaining security and privacy
  • Creating a "social contract" to ensure public awareness and support
  • Enable access to a secure computing infrastructure.

However, we also recognise the challenge of doing this in a highly innovative, competitive and evolving data–driven environment. As a result, an overriding consideration for the establishment of RDS is how to ensure it provides a compelling, and competitive research data service representing a one-stop-shop solution in a diverse and multi-faceted data landscape.

Achieving this will allow us to maximise Scotland's world leading capabilities and technology in the data–driven innovation space.

This FBC builds on the OBC approved by Ministers in early 2021 and sets out further details on why RDS needs to be established, how it will operate, and shows that it will be financially sustainable. The argument for RDS is compelling and, because of its absence, Scotland is suffering a competitive disadvantage and considerable economic opportunity cost. The FBC recommends RDS is established as soon as practicable.



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