Public spending watchdog cites need for ‘radical action’ on data analytics

Audit body points to data challenges stemming from both leaders and the wider workforce

Credit: Tung Nguyen/Pixabay

“Radical action” is needed if the public sector is to make better use of data analytics, according to Scotland’s government spending watchdog.

Audit Scotland has said “Scotland is facing enormous challenges” citing the rise of inequality, an ageing population increasing the pressure on health and care services, the cost-of-living crisis, and the climate emergency.  

It believes data is often seen as “a burden for public bodies” and there are large gaps in data collection and analysis in several areas. These gaps are created as people capturing data on the frontline of service delivery are often hard-pressed and do not see the wider benefits of its use. Other challenges include a lack of understanding from public sector leaders on how best to use data, and organisations not having the data they need.  

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The spending watchdog said that, if these gaps were filled, it would allow for more accurate decision-making, would give greater insight into policy outcomes, and show where spending is having the greatest impact.  

Gemma Diamond, audit director of performance audit and best value, said: “Right now, data is often seen as a burden for public bodies, rather than the key to better policy decisions. People producing data are often stuck in a cycle of reporting for reporting’s sake. Often those people capturing data are on the frontline, already hard-pressed, and don’t see its wider benefits, leading to missing or poor-quality data.”

She added: “There are also concerns that data will be misused if shared. Public sector leaders, too, are not clear on what data they have and how to use it. Or they find that the data they want is simply missing or doesn’t exist. This all uses precious staff resources but without delivering the value and insights we need… Often, we [Audit Scotland], and other public sector bodies, simply cannot get the specific evidence we need to decide whether money has been well spent.”


Sam Trendall

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