Professor Lorne Crerar's report into "regulation, audit, inspection and complaints handling in public services" finally reported at the end of September. The Review, which forms part of a series of public service reforms, was originally announced in June 2006. The Scottish Government highlighted the need to reform the role of Scottish regulators in light of the changing needs and demands of the public service sector.
The Review had produced an interim report, published in March 2007, which indicated the main focuses of its investigation. In particular five key areas were identified as the main elements of reform:
- User focused and personalised services
- Driving up quality and encourage innovation
- Improve efficiency and effectiveness
- Join up services and minimise separation
- Strengthen accountability
After consideration of a wide range of comment from scrutiny bodies, service providers, citizens, professional bodies and the Scottish Executive, the Review published its findings on 25 September 2007.
At the core of the report is a recommendation that one single body should be responsible for the auditing, inspection and regulation of all public services in Scotland. This would involve 43 regulatory bodies, which would include everything from health and education to care homes, merging together to form one overarching organisation. Professor Crerar recognised the extent of the work involved in such a project, but was confident that this is the appropriate direction to be moving in.
While the proposal to set up a single national scrutiny body is very much a long-term proposal, it forms only one of the 42 recommendations made by the Review to improve the role of scrutiny within the public sector. Other proposals include:
Strengthening the voice of service users to ensure public services become more outcome focused
- Ensuring that cost/benefit analysis is a major consideration is any decision about the use of external scrutiny
- Independent scrutiny of the NHS
- A single body to co-ordinate the scrutiny of local government
Public service complaints to be dealt with locally, using the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman overseeing the handling of this.
The Review focused on establishing "a more efficient, consistent and transparent assessment of public services". Professor Crerar noted that the Review's proposals would take a significant burden off service providers and would allow them to fulfil their role more effectively. The proposals also called for more co-operation between scrutiny organisations in order to prevent duplication and unnecessary costs.
The Review's proposals have already attracted support from several organisations, with the attempts to make the system less complex and more cost efficient being particularly welcomed. The Review has also been embraced by John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, who confirmed the importance of the role of scrutiny in the public sector.
The Review is just one step in the general movement towards an improved system of scrutiny, as John Swinney comments: "This report will play a key part in our ongoing work to de-clutter, simplify and improve public services in Scotland".