We are committed to implementing the three principles of Human Rights budgeting. Government should provide the public, Parliament and civil society with accessible information about budget decisions and there should be opportunities for meaningful engagement with people and communities in the budget process. A government's budget should be subject to oversight and scrutiny to ensure accountability for budget decisions and identify the impact these have on human rights. In the Scottish Government, constructive challenge is a key part of the budget formulation process and the importance of assessing decisions for their equality and human rights impacts is widely acknowledged. Fundamentally, all three principles depend on good communication in the budget process and we are committed to improving this.
Through our work with civil society and National Human Rights Institution partners (including EHRBAG and SHRC) to improve fiscal openness and transparency in Scotland’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan, we have committed to: a) improve the accessibility of our fiscal data and information, b) benchmark our fiscal transparency against international standards and c) improve public engagement and participation on the public finances.
Current and planned activity
We want to be able to follow the money through all aspects of the Government’s systems and processes but it will take many years to deliver on this ambition. Using our research and international best practice we are developing an online portal, to bring together and present our fiscal data and information in a more accessible, open and understandable way. In January 2023 a prototype portal was delivered, using existing data on infrastructure investment spending. This early pilot work has enabled us to test the concept and understand better what it will take to develop it further. The programme team are now moving to the next phase, with the aim of delivering an internal product providing access to data on budget allocations, infrastructure spending and procurement data by the end of 2023. The next step will be to turn the internal product into a public facing service, subject to resource availability. Once we have achieved this, we will consider how to extend the portal further, extending the data accessible through the portal and also the access to documents relating to projects/spending lines such as business cases and related analysis. We are aware there is considerable interest in and support for this work from a range of users of Government data - including internally within Scottish Government, the wider public sector, Parliament, research and civil society organisations. We have valued the Equality and Human Rights Budget Advisory Group’s engagement in the Discovery project, and in the co-creation and oversight of the fiscal openness and transparency commitment in Scotland’s third Open Government Action Plan. We will continue to engage with the Equality and Human Rights Budget Advisory Group and other users of the Scottish Government’s fiscal information as we progress work on the portal.
We are benchmarking our performance on openness and transparency against the International Monetary Fund’s Fiscal Transparency Code and the Open Budget Index. On the latter, we are working with the Scottish Human Rights Commission who have undertaken an Open Budget Survey analysis of the 2020-21 Scottish Budget - updating on the 2017-18 analysis that the Commission undertook in 2019. This will benchmark the Scottish Government’s performance on participation, along with the other two key human rights principles of accountability and transparency. We will use the results of the survey to help improve our approach and processes.
We are working to ensure that all published budget documents are as clear and concise as possible. The Scottish Government already produces an annual ‘Your Scotland, Your Finances’ publication. This provides a short, accessible guide to the Budget process, including how the system of public finances in Scotland works and how the funding process has evolved in recent years. This publication was originally produced to provide a simple guide on the Scottish Budget that could help young people and other readers to understand what the Scottish Budget funds. As part of producing the early version of this publication, Young Scot were commissioned to engage with groups of young people to explore their views on the Scottish Budget.
The format, style and content of the ‘Your Scotland, Your Finances’ publication was reviewed in 2022, as part of our OGP Action Plan commitment. The review resulted in the publication changing to become a new plain text web page to improve its accessibility for readers. In addition, the ‘Your Scotland Your Finances’ web page publication is now produced alongside the draft Scottish Budget publication. It is then updated in the spring to reflect the finalised Scottish Budget agreed by the Scottish Parliament.
Alongside this work, the Scottish Government has refined the accessible, summary version of the Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement. We have also improved information to aid scrutiny of the annual budget and its associated spending through the publication of 2023-24 Budget information (and prior year comparisons) based on OECD’s classification of the functions of government (COFOG).
We are undertaking a research project in 2023 to examine what a Citizen’s Budget might look like for Scotland, what resources would be required to publish one and how to ensure that members of the public – particularly those who currently experience inequalities – engage with the budget process. As part of this, we will engage with the interim findings of the Open Budget Survey, investigate international comparators and engage with end users. We will engage with EHRBAG on this work as our research progresses.
We will build on previous engagement and best practice in tax and infrastructure investment, further enhancing participation and engagement. On tax the Medium Term Financial Strategy published on 25 May 2023 set out plans for engagement on tax and the next steps in building on our tax strategy. We will seek views on citizen and stakeholder engagement as part of this process, and the scope for improved communications on tax and its role in supporting fiscal sustainability and public services. We published an updated set of ready reckoners alongside the 2023 MTFS to allow stakeholders and the general public to easily access information on how tax powers can be used to raise revenue. We have established an external tax stakeholder group, to be chaired by the Deputy First Minister, with a view of better understanding the general tax burden and how we can engage more broadly with the public on tax policy.
The independent Infrastructure Commission for Scotland recommended that the Scottish Government work to improve our approach to public and stakeholder engagement around the delivery of infrastructure policy. We remain committed to doing that, and engaging with a wide variety of stakeholders as we develop the next Infrastructure Investment Plan.
As detailed in Scotland’s third Open Government Partnership Action Plan, we are developing a technical solution to strengthen the accessibility of our fiscal information and data. This will be a major step forward in providing the public, Parliament and stakeholders with clear and accessible information about the Scottish Government’s finances.
The Scottish Government also produces the Equality Evidence Finder (EEF). The EEF is an online platform that brings together the latest statistics and research for Scotland across different themes for age, disability, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and transgender status. The EEF is updated regularly with key official statistics, social research and National Performance Framework equality analysis. Links to further datasets, statistics and research are provided to help users find the full range of available equality evidence. We will continue to make regular improvements to the EEF to ensure that the site evolves to meet user requirements.
It is critical there is recognition among government officials of the importance of assessing decisions for their equality and human rights impacts. We believe this recognition is partially addressed through system changes identified elsewhere in this response, such as impact assessment, but that equality and human rights considerations must also become fully integrated in daily decision making. As an example of this work, a new template for providing advice to ministers was launched last year. The new ministerial template specifies that all advice should set out a summary of the analysis of the equality impacts and how the work impacts on human rights.
Prior to, or for, the 2024-2025 Budget
- Develop a programme plan that enables continued scrutiny of progress in relation to these recommendations, and explore the integration of such scrutiny into the Equality and Human Rights Budget Advisory Group’s future role.
- Publish an easy read version of the 2024-25 Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement
- Continue progressing a research project in summer 2023 to examine what a Citizen’s Budget might look like for Scotland, what resources would be required to publish one and how to ensure that members of the public engage with the budget process. This will include a gap analysis with the current Your Scotland, Your Finances publication. We will bring a report to EHRBAG on this work to discuss next steps, including planned engagement with end users.
- Work with the Scottish Human Rights Commission on an update to the Open Budget Survey based on financial year 2021-22.
- As set out in the MTFS, we will consider the opportunities for tax engagement to go broader and explore new topics with the new established Tax Advisory Group. This group will support the development of our tax strategy and enhance our current engagement with the public and other stakeholders on tax to improve understanding and inform policy development.
- Deliver an internal minimum viable product fiscal portal incorporating level 1-4 budget, infrastructure and procurement data, and a plan to develop this into a public facing service.
Prior to, or for, the 2025-2026 Budget
- We will use the learning from the response to the easy read Equality and Fairer Scotland Budget Statement, along with our ongoing work with the Open Government Partnership, to inform the development of future budget related documents.
- Consider the final report of the SHRC’s Open Budget Survey analysis of the 2020-21 financial year and identify improvements for the Budget process (and wider system of publications). We will engage with EHRBAG on the analysis and improvements.
- Subject to capacity and resource, develop the internal fiscal portal into a public facing service.
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