Our work is not just something that popped into our heads when we were thinking about what we could do while we were waiting on the budget. The purpose of the work is to hold those bodies to account for their spending and strategic decisions, and to help to ensure that their continuing performance is of the highest quality. The Education and Skills Committee is keen to get a good understanding of how those bodies have delivered outcomes and positively affected the lives of the people of Scotland. Looking back in that way also puts the committee in a good position to evaluate future spending decisions.
As well as writing to the bodies involved, I have written to a number of stakeholders and experts seeking their views on how the four public bodies perform. It is important also to hear from the people who deliver and use public services. We will, of course, accept relevant submissions from anyone, and in order to help to ensure that everyone is able to speak freely, we have agreed to publish submissions anonymously, if an individual asks us to do so.
Along with my colleague Ross Greer, from Patrick Harvie’s Green Party, I will tomorrow be speaking to teachers here in Parliament about their direct experience of the bodies and the impact that they have on the teachers themselves, their schools and outcomes for their pupils.
The Education and Skills Committee will soon publish a short survey—again, with a focus on how the bodies deliver on outcomes. Committee members also plan to undertake a number of visits to get a real feel for the work of the organisations. The purpose of the engagement work is to get a well-rounded understanding of those public bodies and their work. That will support the committee’s scrutiny, and we want to include as many people as we can in the process.
I make it clear that the Education and Skills Committee includes two Labour members, two Conservative members, one Green member and one Lib Dem member, and that they have all signed up to the pre-budget scrutiny and all see it as the way forward. They have all accepted the timetable that has been put in front of us. For me, that is what highlights that the criticism that we have heard is not about the very important issue of scrutiny of the budget. We have to accept that the matter is out of our hands. If it was not for the Brexit vote and the UK Government’s awaited autumn statement, which could have a devastating impact on the Scottish budget, we would not be in the current situation in the first place.
The cabinet secretary has said that he will work closely with the Finance and Constitution Committee, so let us hold him to his word on that, but let us, at the end of the day, support him in doing so.