Scottish public services ‘could do better’ – Financial Times

Andrew Bolger, Scotland Correspondent
Financial Times, April 14 2008

Improvements in Scottish public services have lagged behind those of other European countries in spite of huge increases in government spending, says a new pro-business think-tank.

The study by Reform Scotland calls for radical new ways of delivering public services that offer real value for money.

“While there are many aspects of public services in Scotland of which we can be proud, our research clearly shows that with the right approach we have the potential to do very much better,” said Ben Thomson, an Edinburgh-based investment banker, who is chairman of Reform Scotland.

Scotland, under nearly a decade of devolution, has so far resisted the enlistment of market forces in its public services, as promoted by the Labour government in the rest of the UK.

The report says that over the past decade, spending on health has increased in real terms by 55 per cent, on education by 87 per cent and on justice by 47 per cent.

“Despite the large increase in resources, and expenditure levels as a percentage of GDP on a par with other European countries, public services in Scotland have produced mixed results,” says the report.

For example, attainment in schools has increased. However, Scotland performs below a number of other European countries, including England, in some international education rankings.

The report says that with schools, it is not necessary for government to be both the funder and deliverer; that headteachers and governing bodies need to be more accountable to parents rather than to government officials, and that competition between schools for pupils drives up standards.

The Power for the Public report calls for more diverse provision, which can mean different approaches in different areas as well as a wider range of service providers; and more direct, local accountability so services are more responsive to the needs and wishes of people and local communities.

Mr Thomson said: “Other countries have found better ways of providing public services, whilst guaranteeing universal access regardless of ability to pay.” Read the Financial Times article here.