Magazine article Public Finance

Gardner: We Need Whole Picture

Magazine article Public Finance

Gardner: We Need Whole Picture

Article excerpt

Scotland needs better tools for monitoring the public finances to go with its new devolved powers, the auditor general for Scotland has told Public Finance.

In an exclusive interview, Caroline Gardner said that Scotland's politicians and people face increasingly acute choices under the fiscal reforms in the 2012 Scotland Act, the further changes in prospect from Lord Smith of Kelvin's Commission on enhanced devolution and an accelerating subsidiarity agenda that includes the Community Empowerment Bill currently before Holyrood.

She called on the Scottish Government to follow Whitehall's lead and issue an annual balance sheet, bringing together information from across the whole of the public finances. A similar proposal is made in CIPFA's evidence to the commission.

'At the moment we don't have a balance sheet for Scotland,' Gardner said. But for all the UK, the Whole of Government Accounts give a 'rounded picture' of what the government raises and what it spends it on, what it owns and what it owes.

'Although they're not perfect, they do give a really clear insight into some of the trends that we're seeing and some of the risks that have to be managed and, increasingly, the choices that are being made about investment, borrowing, capital investment, those sorts of things,' she added.

We don't yet have that in Scotland, and you can argue that it didn't matter too much in the years when Scotland was only spending the money that came from Westminster. But as we're making choices about raising taxes, different forms of investment, the increasinguse of revenuefinanced investment to build our infrastructure, that picture becomes increasingly important to all of us.'

Such data would be of wide usefulness, she said. 'First of all, its for government itself: to understand the overall picture, the long-term commitments that have been made, and the changes that are happening over time. …

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