Audit Scotland has warned that transparency around what is classed as Covid-19 spending across government portfolios remains challenging in a fast-moving and unpredictable environment.
The Scottish Government estimates it has spent over £8.8bn of the £9.3bn allocated to support Covid-19 spending in 2020/21.
More than 300 individual spending measures have been announced to date, with the largest amounts going to business, health and social care, and local government.
Spending has been funded by £8.6bn of additional Barnett consequentials from the UK Government in 2020/21, as well as by reallocating funding from existing budgets.
A further £1.15bn in Barnett funding was carried over to the 2021/22 budget, but the UK Government has not guaranteed the level of Barnett funding for 2021/22, as it did in 2020/21.
This makes medium-term financial planning and dealing with uncertainties arising from the pandemic more challenging, stated the spending watchdog.
Auditor General for Scotland Stephen Boyle said: “As Scotland moves into the recovery phase from the pandemic, it will likely become increasingly difficult to define what is, and what isn’t, Covid-19 spending.
“The Scottish Government is managing financial pressures which predate the pandemic, such as spending on health and social care.
“That means difficult decisions lie ahead and, despite the challenges, it increases the need for a medium-term plan to manage the levels of uncertainty and volatility facing the Scottish budget.”
In 2020/21, Covid-19 spending by the Scottish Government on business support was £3.8bn. On health and social care it spent £2.9bn, along with £1.2bn on local government.
The Scottish Government anticipates it will spend at least £4.9bn on Covid-19 in 2021/22, and to date has budgeted to spend £3.3bn.
Audit Scotland estimates that by the end of the 2020/21 financial year over 230 Covid-19 spending announcements had been made.
More than 70 announcements applying to the 2021/22 financial year were made by the end of July, bringing the total since March 2020 to more than 300 separate announcements.
Audit Scotland’s report claimed that the Scottish Government was reviewing past spending decisions to collate all Covid-19 related pledges, meaning it will become harder to classify coronavirus-specific spending as the country moves into the recovery phase.
The statement also stressed the need for effective communication at all levels of government to understand the impact measures are having.
“Having a clear picture of how initiatives at each level of Government are working together to respond to and recover from the pandemic is needed to properly understand the effectiveness of Covid-19 measures and to support budgeting and financial planning,” the report read.
“Effective communication and cooperation between governments will be central to this.”
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