I thank the Finance Committee for its report on the Government’s budget. Although I will give some initial reactions to the content of that report in my comments to Parliament today, the Government’s full response to the Finance Committee’s report will be provided in writing in advance of the stage 1 debate on the budget bill in late January.
I welcome the degree of interest that the Finance Committee has taken in Scotland performs and the national performance framework. It was a bold endeavour by the Government to set out, in 2007, to create a framework in which we would signal to all relevant public authorities, as well as to the private sector and the third sector, the focus of our public policy intentions and how we intend to structure the different interventions that we make to realise our ambitions.
The purpose of Scotland performs is twofold. First, it is to provide an integrated framework for policy delivery that is relevant to all public bodies and public authorities in Scotland and which gives the clearest possible indication to private and third sector organisations of the focus of policy making in Scotland. Secondly, it is to provide a mechanism to assess the performance of Scotland as a whole in working towards achieving the objectives and aims that are set out within Scotland performs.
In that sense, the comments that Mr Gibson relayed, which form part of the Finance Committee’s report and which I put on the record at our discussion in Arbroath, are absolutely correct. Scotland performs is not designed to be a report card for the Government. There are many appropriate ways in which the Government’s record, plans and policies can be subject to scrutiny on a daily basis—through the reports that Government makes to Parliament, the appearances of ministers at meetings of parliamentary committees, the debates that we have in this chamber and the wide variety of statistical evidence that the Government publishes every day about our performance in relation to our policy intentions.
Scotland performs is designed to elevate that debate to a more strategic level and to assess the degree of progress that Scotland is making in realising the ambitions in the national performance framework. That is driven by the Government’s purpose of increasing opportunities for all to prosper in Scotland through increasing sustainable economic growth and, as Mr Gibson correctly identifies, through the various national purpose targets that we have set out, the national outcomes and the indicators of performance.
I think that that represents an excellent framework that—as I think the Finance Committee would recognise, based on the organisations it heard from—is increasingly recognised by organisations in Scotland as providing the policy discipline within which organisations are able to take their decisions.
If taking account of my assessment of Scotland performs is not appropriate, Parliament should take account of the view of the Carnegie UK Trust. In its report, “Shifting the Dial in Scotland”, which discusses examples of strong public policy frameworks across the world, it said:
“We did not expect to find international innovation on our doorstep. But our work has repeatedly found that the Scottish National Performance Framework is an international leader in wellbeing measurement, a sentiment repeated by Professor Stiglitz in his address to the OECD World Forum in India, in 2012.”
That strong endorsement of the value and strength of Scotland performs should give Parliament a great deal of confidence.
That was reinforced by the comments that Jeremy Peat, of the David Hume Institute, made to the Finance Committee:
“I think that Scotland should be proud of the NPF. It is a remarkable achievement to have got something so detailed, so regularly presented and so transparent in terms of the data, targets and information that are set out. It is a hugely positive base from which to proceed.”—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 2 October 2013; c 3087.]
The Government believes that we took the right step to establish the national performance framework, and I think that the statements of independent commentators evidence the fact that it is having a significant effect on the structuring of public policy.
One point that Mr Gibson raised on behalf of the committee, and which was reflected in some of the views of the committee’s adviser, is that there is a difficulty in establishing the link between policy and outcomes. I completely disagree on that point; I do not accept it by any stretch of the imagination. The ability for us to construct a model that can trace the impact of any individual pound of public expenditure to a policy outcome will involve us in an assessment of such complexity that it would stop us from doing virtually anything as a policy-making community.
What is important is to test the ambitions and the policy programme of Government against the outcomes that are achieved and are recorded in Scotland performs. For example, to look at the outcomes that have been achieved on the economy in a 12-month period strikes me as a vivid test of whether the Government has succeeded in establishing a link between its interventions and the achievement of desirable policy outcomes.
Let us consider the data. In 12 months, the gross domestic product of Scotland increased by 1.8 per cent, compared with 1.3 per cent in the United Kingdom; employment in Scotland rose by 83,000, compared with a rise in employment across the UK of 485,000; unemployment in Scotland fell by 8,000 over the year, compared with the fall in unemployment in the rest of the UK of 121,000; and economic inactivity in Scotland fell by 69,000, compared with a fall of 156,000 across the whole of the UK.
Those measures of economic performance—GDP, employment, unemployment and economic inactivity—indicate that the Government’s aspiration to take a set of decisions that are designed to intervene in the economy and deliver a better performance are evidenced by the material that Scotland performs and the statistical base that the Government supports are able to establish.
I hope that that reassures the Finance Committee that the Government has clearly established, in the particular measure of the assessment of our economic activity, the link between policy intervention—I could not have been clearer in my 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 budgets about the Government’s focus on improving economic performance—