A Financial Scrutiny Unit is to be established within the Scottish Parliament to enhance scrutiny of budget issues and the annual Budget Bill process, it was announced today.
The unit will create a centre of expertise which will increase the Parliament’s capacity to analyse Government spending proposals, and importantly, enable Parliament to cost and evaluate alternative spending proposals to those set out by the Government.
Commencing in October 2009 on a pilot basis, the Financial Scrutiny Unit will adapt the approach taken by other parliaments around the world in establishing a budget office. The new unit will be located within SPICe – the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre.
The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) has approved the establishment of the unit on the basis that it is funded from within existing resources. Demand for and benefit from the unit will be evaluated by March next year to inform decisions on its future development.
Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson MSP said: “The budget scrutiny process has never been more important than in the current economic climate.
"Creating a Financial Scrutiny Unit will enhance this Parliament’s ability to examine the fine detail of Government spending proposals – which is perhaps the most fundamental role of any Parliament in holding the Government of the day to account.”
Mr Fergusson added: “In the current economic climate, it is vitally important that the Parliament lives within its means. To that end the unit will be established on a pilot basis in the current financial year, using existing budget funds.”
Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee Andrew Welsh MSP said: "The Finance Committee’s report on its Review of the Budget Process recommended enhanced resources being made available to the Parliament for scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s budget. The availability of such independent, sound analysis is essential for proper scrutiny, especially given the current tight budgeting environment.
"The Committee welcomes the SPCB's decision to establish this Unit and looks forward to the positive contribution it can make in enhancing budget scrutiny."
The work of the unit will be driven by the requirements of committees and individual Members. Examples of its likely outputs include:
- Analysis of costings of Government policy and legislation
- Estimates of costings of alternative spending proposals
- Detailed analysis of the Scottish Government’s budget documents
- Working closely with the committees’ budget advisers to provide further analysis of budget portfolios
- Monitoring and tracking different aspects of Government expenditure
- Provision of resources, such as budget spreadsheets, to allow further analysis to be carried out directly
- Short briefings on specific topics of particular interest to committees and the wider parliament.
The Financial Scrutiny Unit will begin work in October 2009. It will comprise four core staff with an economics and finance background, all of whom currently work in SPICe. Additional expertise will be brought in by way of secondment and through the commissioning of external support. Existing staff and research budgets will be used to resource the unit.