The Scottish Government must provide “greater transparency” on financial decisions taken during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report.
Audit Scotland praised collaboration “in difficult circumstances” with other local and national governments during the unfolding global crisis but the watchdog said it was “hard to see how some financial decisions were reached” during the period.
Around £15.5bn was allocated for the response to the virus – which was managed “effectively”, auditors said – however, only £11.8bn was spent between March 2020 and December 2021.
Opponents said the public “deserves to know” what happened to the unspent funds.
The independent body recommended an improvement in transparency to allow for “more scrutiny” to be afforded to funding and spending measures and explain the decision-making processes.
Finance secretary Kate Forbes said: “Despite the impacts of the pandemic, many of which are still being acutely felt, we worked collaboratively with all sectors of the economy to identify those most in need and then with local authorities and partners to utilise existing systems to ensure financial support was delivered swiftly and effectively.
“We will now carefully consider the Audit Scotland report and engage with relevant sectors to ensure that future decision-making is as informed as possible and best supports the people of Scotland.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, however, called the report’s findings “alarming”.
He said: “A gap between nationalist rhetoric and delivery is typical – but the watchdog’s conclusion is that we simply don’t know how, where, or even whether, these funds were spent. That’s simply unacceptable.
“It’s damning – yet predictable – that the auditors find the government ‘struggled to maintain transparency’, hampering the watchdog’s ability to scrutinise the accounts.”
Labour Covid recovery spokesperson Jackie Baillie added: “Getting this lifeline funding to all those who needed it was a matter of urgency, but that shouldn’t have come at the expense of transparency.
“The SNP’s economic mismanagement has left public finances in total chaos, but even as they forge ahead to cut services to the bone we still don’t know what happened to billions of pounds of Covid money.
“The public deserve to know exactly what happened to these extraordinary sums of public money, so we can have confidence it reached the right people and delivered what it needed to.”