2.1 In autumn 2005, Scottish Executive ( SE) Finance Ministers asked us 2 to review the performance of SE budgets (except for local authority spend) against Ministerial priorities as set out in the Partnership Agreement ( PA), and subsequently refined in Building a Better Scotland: Spending Proposals 2005-2008: Enterprise, Opportunity and Fairness ( BABS). Our review is part of a wider strategic exercise preparing for the next spending review ( SR) in 2007. All the indications are that SR 2007 will be much tighter than recent spending reviews with lower growth in resources.
2.2 Since the inception of the SE (and the Scottish Parliament), total public expenditure has grown significantly. If SR 2007 proves to be financially much tighter as expected, then the SE will face much harder choices in allocating its budgets. We were asked to use our collective experience of tight budgetary conditions and priority-based decision making to help the SE prepare for SR 2007.
2.3 Our primary aim, therefore, was to identify potential options for 'headroom': areas of spending that are not performing well, are not well targeted against Ministerial priorities, or that have been fully implemented yet the level of expenditure has been maintained. Any headroom should provide SE Ministers with choices for the realignment of spending programmes with current and future priorities, hence we title our report - 'Choices For A Purpose'.
2.4 This report sets out:
- our remit and our views on it;
- our approach, based on reviewing available evidence;
- our findings at a generic level and also by portfolio/programme; and
- our conclusions on potential options for 'headroom' and suggestions and recommendations for improvement.
2.5 Overall, we found the SE is a well-run, forward-looking organisation that seeks to learn and improve. It has managed the major changes of devolution very well. Our report highlights areas for further improvement, and our comments and suggestions are offered as 'critical friends'.
2.6 We thank SE Ministers, MSPs, civil servants, other officials and many stakeholders who contributed to our work. We have tried to reflect the many and diverse views and ideas we found. We have chosen not to attribute any of these, so that debate and consideration of our report can focus on the big issues without distraction of personality or politics.
2.7 We believe our conclusions, recommendations and suggestions for improvement have wide and long-term significance beyond SR 2007
2.8 Special thanks to our Adviser, David Stewart and support team, Fiona Montgomery, Jackie Moody, Jackie Walder and Marie Craig.
2.9 Finally, we especially thank the SE Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform, Tom McCabe, and the Deputy Minister, George Lyon, for the chance to participate in this exercise and for the very positive way they contributed to our work. We hope our contribution enables them (and their successors) to continue to improve financial planning within the Scottish Executive and to make better 'Choices For A Purpose'.