1. This section gives guidance on accountability arrangements for the use of public resources - and for connected purposes - authorised by the Scottish Parliament. The guidance is relevant to all organisations to which the Scottish Public Finance Manual is directly applicable.
2. The essence of the Accountable Officer's role is a personal responsibility for the propriety and regularity of the finances under their stewardship and for the economic, efficient and effective use of all related resources. Accountable Officers are personally answerable to the Parliament for the exercise of their functions.
3. Portfolio Accountable Officers are responsible for the putting in place of appropriate framework documents for each SG Executive Agency, non-ministerial office and SG sponsored body, setting out the accountability arrangements and other relevant matters.
4. Provision for accountability in relation to the use of public resources - and for connected purposes - authorised by the Scottish Parliament is included in the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000 (the PFA Act). The PFA Act makes provision for Accountable Officers for the Scottish Administration and related bodies plus, separately, the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body and Audit Scotland. The essence of the Accountable Officer's role is a personal responsibility for the propriety and regularity of the finances under their stewardship and for the economic, efficient and effective use of all related resources. Accountable Officers are personally answerable to the Parliament for the exercise of their functions and have a statutory duty to obtain written authority from, as the case may be, the Scottish Ministers or relevant governing body before taking any action that they consider may be inconsistent with the proper performance of their functions. The system is designed to promote good governance.
Principal Accountable Officer for the Scottish Administration
5. The Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government is the Principal Accountable Officer (PAO) for the Scottish Administration in accordance with section 14 of the PFA Act. Their functions include designating persons as Accountable Officers for parts of the Scottish Administration (i.e. the core Scottish Government (SG), the Crown office and Procurator Fiscal service, SG Executive Agencies and non-ministerial offices (NMOs) and for other bodies (excluding the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body) the accounts of which are subject by statute to audit by or under the control of the Auditor General for Scotland (AGS). The PAO is also responsible for signing the consolidated accounts for the SG and the accounts for the Scottish Consolidated Fund (SCF).
Accountable Officers for parts of the Scottish Administration
6. The responsibilities of Accountable Officers for parts of the Scottish Administration, as designated by the PAO, are set out in the Memorandum to Accountable Officers for Parts of the Scottish Administration at Annex 1. Accountable Officers for parts of the Scottish Administration currently designated by the PAO include:
- Chief Executives (or equivalent) of SG Executive Agencies and NMOs
- the Crown Agent (for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service)
Portfolio Accountable Officers
7. Directors-General (DGs) are responsible for families of directorates - the building blocks of the core SG. DGs and Directors together provide strategic direction and leadership and are the key management team of the organisation as a whole. Budgets, however, are allocated by the Scottish Ministers and authorised by the Parliament on the basis of Cabinet Secretary/Ministerial portfolios. Designating DGs as Accountable Officers on the same basis therefore provides Ministers and the Parliament with clarity in respect of Accountable Officer responsibilities. These responsibilities include advising Ministers in the exercise of their responsibilities in relation to SG Executive Agencies and NMOs. DGs in their role as Portfolio Accountable Officers (or senior members of their staff) also have specific responsibilities with regard to Agencies and NMOs which should be set out in individual framework documents covering accountability arrangements and other relevant matters. The framework document will normally be prepared by the public bodies in consultation with their sponsor team or Senior Lead Officer along with the core SG (including the relevant Finance Business Partner (or equivalent) and the SG’s Public Bodies Support Unit) but responsibility for ensuring that an up to date document is in place, agreed as necessary by the responsible Cabinet Secretary or Minister, rests with the relevant Portfolio Accountable Officer.
8. The responsibilities of Portfolio Accountable Officers with regard to sponsored bodies are set out in the Memorandum at Annex 1. These include the putting in place of an appropriate framework document and, where considered appropriate to do so, recommending to the PAO the designation of the senior full-time official as Accountable Officer for the sponsored body. The framework documents for Executive NDPBs, Executive Agencies, NMOs and Advisory NDPBs are available to download. The models may be adapted and applied in respect of other sponsored bodies but the necessary documentation should reflect the status of the different types of sponsored bodies and their relationship with the SG. In the case of cross-border/jointly funded bodies it would normally be sufficient to ensure that the accountability, funding and reporting arrangements with regard to the bodies' activities in Scotland were included in the framework document put in place by the lead UK Department. The preparation of framework documents for sponsored bodies is the responsibility of the relevant SG sponsor unit in consultation with its Finance Business Partner (or relevant Finance equivalent).
9. Portfolio Accountable Officers are also responsible for ensuring that robust local accountability arrangements are in place in respect of decentralised bodies that receive funding from the SG, such as local authorities, police authorities and fire authorities. Local authorities are of course accountable to their electorates for the spending decisions that they make. They are also subject to a framework of legal duties.
Accountable Officers for other Public Bodies
10. The PAO may, under section 15 of the PFA Act, designate persons as Accountable Officers for bodies outwith the Scottish Administration i.e. bodies (excluding the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body) the accounts of which are subject by statute to audit by or under the control of the AGS. The responsibilities of such Accountable Officers are set out in the Memorandum to Accountable Officers for Other Public Bodies at Annex 2. Other public bodies in this context consist essentially of SG sponsored bodies.
11. Designation of the Chief Executive (or equivalent) of a sponsored body as an Accountable Officer should, as a general rule, be made in relation to separate accounting entities where the accounts are laid before the Parliament. It would not normally be appropriate to designate Accountable Officers for sponsored bodies that have their finances accounted for solely in the SG's accounts. Designation by the PAO should, following clearance by the PAO, be notified to the Chief Executive (or equivalent) by the relevant Portfolio Accountable Officer.
12. The letter designating an Accountable Officer for a sponsored body should make it clear that the status can be withdrawn if the PAO concludes that the individual is no longer a fit person to carry out the responsibilities of an Accountable Officer. Detailed guidance on the procedures for handling the withdrawal of sponsored body Accountable Officer status is at Annex 3.
13. Neither the PAO nor Accountable Officers for parts of the Scottish Administration designated by the PAO are answerable to the Parliament in respect of policy decisions. The Scottish Ministers determine policy and account to, and are held to account by, the Scottish Parliament for the policy decisions and actions of the Scottish Administration, including SG Executive Agencies and NMOs.
14. Whilst SG Executive Agencies, NMOs and bodies sponsored by the SG are distanced to varying degrees from the Scottish Ministers, the responsible Cabinet Secretary or Minister is accountable to the Parliament for the degree of independence enjoyed; for the organisation’s usefulness as an instrument of government policy; and so ultimately for the overall effectiveness and efficiency with which it carries out its functions. Only Ministers can propose the use of resources by such organisations to the Parliament in the Budget Bill. Ministers therefore remain ultimately accountable to the Parliament for the use of the resources, even though the organisations operate at arm’s length with their own designated Accountable Officers. Ministers are also ultimately answerable for the performance of the organisations and for their continued existence.
Page updated: December 2022