Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting date: Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Finance and Public Administration Committee 17 May 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: National Performance Framework: Ambitions into Action, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Budget (Website)


National Performance Framework: Ambitions into Action

Good morning, and welcome to the 15th meeting in 2022 of the Finance and Public Administration Committee. The first item on our agenda is to take evidence on the national performance framework.

I put on the record my thanks to all those who took part in the workshops relating to our national performance framework ambitions into action inquiry last week. I hope that everyone found the events in Dundee and Glasgow useful and interesting. I certainly did, and colleagues to whom I have spoken certainly did, too.

To build on last week’s discussions, we will return to taking formal evidence in our inquiry. Our witnesses today are Dr Ian Elliott, senior lecturer in public leadership and management at Northumbria University and honorary chair of the United Kingdom Joint University Council—we have only an hour and a half for this session; I thought that I was going to spend most of it reading out his qualifications—Dr Max French, lecturer in systems leadership at Newcastle business school, Northumbria University; and Jennifer Wallace, director of Carnegie UK. Good morning. I welcome you all to the meeting and thank you for your written submissions to the inquiry.

We will move straight to questions. The Auditor General for Scotland said in a blog on 7 September that Scotland is suffering from

“a major implementation gap between policy ambitions and delivery on the ground.”

He went on to say:

“I am not convinced that public sector leaders really feel accountable for delivering change”.

What do the panellists feel about that?

Dr Ian Elliott (Northumbria University and Honorary Chair, UK Joint University Council)

I certainly recognise a lot in that from my own research. The idea of implementation is an interesting one. When the performance framework was first set up—that is going back some time now—it was really designed within the Scottish Government as a tool to get Scottish Government officials and, indeed, ministers, to think more strategically, to move away from a mindset of thinking in granular detail about inputs and outputs, and to think more about outcomes. That proved to be very successful at the time. One aspect of that was freeing up local government through the concordat that was developed at the time, as well as removing a lot of ring fencing of things such as budgets for implementation.

Part of what has happened over time is that a lot of that ring fencing has come back. Since 2008, we have had austerity and the Covid pandemic. There have been a lot of major crises that have constrained what local government can do to innovate and better implement things.

There are a lot of challenges in that that we have to recognise. I worry that some of the Government’s strategic mindset has been lost and that a focus on things such as how many police officers are on the ground is slowly creeping back as opposed to thinking more strategically about the outcomes that we are trying to deliver.

I recognise a lot of what the Auditor General said, and I think that a lot of really good work in that area is being done.

We share the Auditor General’s view that there is an implementation gap. In our written evidence, we tried to focus on where the golden thread between the national outcomes and delivery gets lost. A significant amount of implementation process and the infrastructure to support it, which was lacking in our work at Carnegie UK and in Dr French’s work, could have been put in place. We have seen examples from other countries in which that scaffolding has been put in to support an approach to outcomes, and we can see very clearly using the comparative evidence that that scaffolding is missing in Scotland and is part of the problem with implementation here.

I also agree with the Auditor General’s comments. We are beginning to see clear evidence of an implementation gap, even within the devolved nations. Scotland has achieved less implementation and depth within the Government than Wales. Since the whole-of-society approach that has been taken since 2018, we can see less horizontal integration within a range of public bodies and even within third sector organisations than is the case in Wales. There are several reasons for that. The main reason is a lack of a proper implementation strategy in Scotland. The emphasis has been more on measurement than on what you do with the measures. Therefore, the lack of a strategy is becoming evident in the patterns of implementation outcomes. We have submitted a paper that systematically compares Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on their implementation of their national-level outcomes and indicators, that supports that view.

However, there is an opportunity with the upcoming review and proposed new legislation to make up some of the ground. The focus of this inquiry can support that.

Dr French, you said in your submission:

“The NPF has achieved limited (but improving) implementation success.”

However, the Scottish Leaders Forum action group says that the current status of accountability against the NPF is “patchy” and that

“typically, the NPF is not actively used to shape scrutiny, provide sponsorship, undertake commissioning of work or shape the allocation of funding”.

Therefore, have there been improvements? Where are these improvements taking place? Which area do we need to focus on most to ensure that the NPF delivers what it is supposed to?

On improvement, since 2018, there has been dedicated leadership within the Scottish Government in the performance and outcomes directorate. A small team has been working on external communications and engagement on that, working internally with Government, very slowly, to change some of the processes involved in reporting, policy making and so forth. I would say that progress has probably been too slow, but it is a very small team. I would say that there has been a slow, gradual improvement and focus on implementation.

The external whole-of-society approach, rather than a whole-of-Government approach, has really galvanised some external interest. Also, as you are seeing through the accountability and incentives group in the Scottish Leaders Forum, when you get external people involved in some of the scrutiny, which is something that Scotland has lacked—it has not had an external scrutiny organisation for its NPF—more energy and criticality are brought to it, as you can see through its contribution to the inquiry.

When the committee went out to hold workshops last week, we found a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy for the NPF, but the issue is how widespread that is. Your research and, indeed, the Scottish Leaders Forum action group are important in identifying where there are issues.

Ms Wallace, you said in your submission:

“While there are some sectors and Directorates where the National Outcomes are more visibly embedded, there are many places where other statutory duties or non-legislative frameworks are seen to take precedence.”

Can you give some examples of that?

Yes, of course. We have drawn attention to two recent examples of surface-level alignment. The first is the national strategy for economic transformation, which includes only two references to the national performance framework and no explicit references to the statutory national outcomes. It is difficult to view that as their having had regard to it. I think that they have put in some sentences and added a reference to the national performance framework, but it does not feel as though the national strategy for economic transformation is aligned to the national outcomes in the way that we would have hoped for from an external organisation.

We have been members of the Children in Scotland children’s sector strategic forum for a number of years and we have been actively interested in improving children’s outcomes through that cross-sectoral group. We have engaged with the Scottish Government on the children’s wellbeing outcomes, hoping that that would be a children’s version of the national performance framework. That is what we understood the intention to be.

The process that was gone through was to identify indicators currently in use by local government that relate largely to children’s services. What has come out of that process is a children’s services outcomes framework, which looks at SHANARRI—safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included—which are the personal outcomes for children and young people, and getting it right for every child, which are service outcomes for children’s services.

That matters because a huge number of things that are important to children’s wellbeing are now not included in that draft framework. That includes, for example, access to play spaces, which we know are really important to children and young people; they say how important that is to their wellbeing. Neither is there any information in there on air pollution, yet we know a huge amount about the relationship between air pollution, asthma and children’s long-term health outcomes. To us, taking that narrow prism instead of a holistic wellbeing approach does not conform to the ambition of the national performance framework. Those are just two recent examples, which I hope will help the committee to understand what we are trying to say in our evidence.

They do. You have also said in your written submission that we need

“a strong advocate with powers and duties to ensure”

the prominence of the national outcomes

“in policy development and delivery.”

What sorts of powers and duties would that individual have?

We are attracted to the model in Wales, as many people in Scotland are, because, as we have seen, the Welsh and Scottish legislation came into force at a similar time, but their implementation has had very different success rates.

One of the factors that has been given for that is the existence of a wellbeing commissioner, and an office for that. Underpinning that are the commissioner’s ability to request information, and a strong memorandum of understanding between the commissioner for future generations and Audit Wales to pool their powers for maximum scrutiny impact. It is not merely that they produce an annual report, as is expected in Scotland, or that they produce research; they also use powers to request information to hold publicly to account Welsh public services and bodies for delivering on their national outcomes. We are missing that key accountability route. In the Scottish legislation, public bodies have to “have regard to” the national outcomes but there is no mechanism to hold them accountable for that.

The other interesting and important point is that, in the Welsh model, the accountability is not for delivering improvements to the national outcomes but for having processes in place that show how bodies are trying to have regard to the national outcomes and goals in the work that they do. The accountability is at process level, to show how bodies are trying to change their ways of working; it is not for a set of indicators, for which, rightly, many organisations say that they cannot be held solely accountable. In a Scottish context, it would be helpful to learn from that complexity in the Welsh experience.

Thank you for that.

Dr Elliott, you were nodding vigorously. What are your thoughts on that? In addition, will you expand on the issue of the strategic state? You mentioned the word “strategic” in response to the first question and, in your submission, you talked about the “strategic state”.

Yes, but first, I want to pick up on something that Max French said. I completely agree with him that, in looking at the NPF again, there is a risk that the decision is taken to change the indicators or the outcomes, for example. It is important for the committee and others who are involved to consider that implementation gap and how to implement the framework that we already have rather than necessarily reforming it radically and spending years in coming up with a new framework instead of considering how we make it happen in practice.

What Jen Wallace has said about focusing on process is also important because, in its original iteration, it was intended not as a performance measurement framework for counting specific indicators but more as a decision-making tool to get people to think more strategically and importantly, more collaboratively, across different directorates within the Government, and beyond it.

That was where the strategic state idea came about. It was originally put forward by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and my research looks at how the Scottish Government’s approach to the NPF is quite closely aligned with the OECD’s concept of a strategic state.


It is therefore important that we do not focus too much on measuring indicators; instead, we should think about the process. A similar philosophy lies behind the United Nations sustainable development goals. They are not intended as tick-box exercises, and the UN does not expect all 193 countries to measure things against every single one of them. They are meant to be stretching ambitions, with the expectation that people will make progress towards those goals. The question is how you demonstrate that you are making that progress and the steps that you are taking in the way that Jennifer Wallace has described—in other words, thinking about the processes instead of focusing on the granular detail that arises from the specific measurement of things. It is quite important to take that factor into account, too.

Dr French, you say in your submission:

“there is little evidence the NPF has been meaningfully incorporated into organisational routines within those organisations, or in changing decisions, promoting learning or altering policies.”

How can we ensure that that takes place?

There are probably a few things that we need to do to achieve that. A lot of learning can be taken from Wales, for example. As a lot of the submissions to the inquiry have reinforced, this is all about the combination of statutory duties, scrutiny and accountability, and it is also about building on some of the strengths surrounding the NPF and some of the Scottish Government’s work in positioning this as an holistic and societal approach that has broad ownership and which galvanises and excites people and makes them want to engage.

The learning that we can take from Wales is that, if you strap on additional duties in a new bill to force public bodies to plan for, promote, set and account for objectives, they can choose to do so in a passive and superficial way, if so inclined. However, they could also be encouraged to do that work through supportive challenge from, say, a commissioner, auditor or inspection body, and to see the value in fulfilling that duty as a means of promoting their own objectives. For example, a community planning partnership setting a local outcomes improvement plan might see the NPF as important in promoting its own agenda. We need the will as well as the duties to ensure effectiveness; otherwise, we just get lip service in meeting indicators and duties.

In Northern Ireland, for example, the Government departments that have really gone for an outcomes-based accountability approach are the ones that have wanted to do so, have seen the value in it and have seen their ownership of it reflected in their contribution. If departments wanted to, they could have a passive reporting mechanism and not do the strategising that Ian Elliott talked about. Both things are important.

I see that, in the section of your submission entitled “Soft power strategies”, you talk about

“galvanising stories which capture the public interest and communicate its values, rather than merely list statistics”.

Can you talk us through that a wee bit?

What I think that I mean by that is that the NPF needs to connect in some way not just with public interest but with media and parliamentary interest. It needs to connect with the stories that people want to tell. Statistics on indicators going up and down or staying the same, even in aggregate, do not really capture the public interest. Indeed, Scotland performs has had historically low engagement rates from the public and very little uptake in the media.

The commissioner in Wales has produced guidance for members of Parliament and media organisations so that if they want to tell a story about the legislation in Wales and the national outcomes and indicators, they can do so. They are provided with the guidance, the structures and the scaffolding to enable them to do that. Historically, the public has had low interest in pure performance measures if they have not been accompanied by a narrative that explains their importance.

My final question before I open questions up to committee members is to Ms Wallace.

We were in Dundee last week. Although there was a lot of enthusiasm there for the NPF, one individual said to me that the problem that they had with it was that it was yet another series of things that Government expected them to do. We spend a lot of time having meetings and we have this and that set of objectives. They can be overlapping and not quite contradictory, but a huge amount of energy is taken up in asking what we prioritise. How do we cut through the Gordian knot of all the different objectives that have been given to local authorities and other organisations so that people can see more clearly and help effectively to progress the aims of the NPF?

I recognise the experience that the person in Dundee described. In conversations that we have had and in what we have reviewed, we have come across many instances of duties to provide statistics landing on officers in local government who have to furnish the information for the plans to be produced. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities will be better placed to comment, but one local authority reported to us that there were nine separate plans related to the same thing—in that case, children and young people.

My favourite quotation on that is from the Auditor General for Wales, who said that they needed a radical decluttering. After a generation of legislation in Scotland, we also need a radical decluttering. As a nation, we are good at creating additional duties, particularly additional duties to create a plan, but we now need a process to assess all of those and assess which is the most important.

One of the—I hesitate to say “failures”—disappointments in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 was that the national outcomes that it created did not in any sense sit above the plans, frameworks and other activities. Often, when the outcomes are referenced, they are at the bottom rather than at the top of the document so, in the flow, it feels like they are an afterthought rather than the thing on to which departments and agencies can hook their activity. It is a retrofitting rather than analysis from the outset.

A radical decluttering is probably required in Scotland. We need a process to do that effectively in consultation with the many people who work for the benefit of Scotland and then an exploration of how we create a system that shows clearly that the national outcomes are meant to sit at the top of that run of plans and frameworks and not be an afterthought.

I am a big fan of decluttering, I must say.

I like that phrase “radical decluttering”. It sounds like what I am constantly being told to do at home.

I am very interested in the conversation so far. I will pick up on a couple of points.

Structure seems to be the thread that runs through the conversation at a number of different levels. Dr Ian Elliott talked about the national performance framework originally being a decision-making tool. The outcomes are relatively straightforward to understand. However, when you come to the indicators, you are suddenly landed with a sea of bullet points and it is difficult to see intuitively what they are trying to tell you or even whether it is one thing or a number of different things.

I looked at the indicator on children’s happiness. It turns out that that is just one survey that manages four quite narrow metrics, which are valuable but do not necessarily entirely encompass what we would all understand to be children’s happiness.

Is one of the problems the structure of the NPF, in that we have good high-level outcomes with an asymmetrical set of indicators that sit below them and it is not intuitively easy to understand what any of them tells us? In other words, is the NPF as it is currently structured too difficult to use?

There is a big issue with focusing on metrics and measuring them within what is a complex system involving many different agencies, Government bodies and third sector bodies. That is where we get into the problematic issues that I mentioned around thinking of the NPF as a performance measurement tool. Max French has done quite a lot of research on the issue of having a metrics-based approach. Those were the issues that I was talking about when I mentioned the reforms that were brought in in 2008, which were about trying to get the Scottish Government to think on a more strategic basis. They were very much internal Government reforms and there was quite a lot of leadership and leadership development around that process.

The example of Wales is interesting and I have referred to it numerous times. Academi Wales does a lot of leadership development activity, and there are strong links between the Welsh Government and academia—for example, the Welsh Centre for Public Policy is a strong research unit that helps to underpin a lot of the work that is going on and provides some of the scrutiny.

I am not sure about the idea of there being a commissioner—I admit that I am not familiar with that idea. However, there is certainly a role for Audit Scotland in some of this work, and I can see how it is starting to enter into this space more, which is really encouraging. There is also a role for this committee and all other parliamentary committees in considering how the work of the Scottish Government is being scrutinised in relation to the performance framework and its outcomes, rather than taking a granular approach to specific indicators.

Dr French, could you pick up on that and also say whether there is a sense in which the metrics need to be split apart from the capturing of the outcomes? I accept what Dr Elliott is saying, but I think that, if we just had qualitative outcomes with no measurement, we would have a problem. At the focus group that I attended in Glasgow—there were parallel focus groups in Dundee and Glasgow—there was a view that we are not using data properly and that we have narrow metrics, which is a problem because, in the 21st-century world, people use big data sets and do much richer data analysis.

Do we need to split apart the capturing of the outcomes from the measurement, and do we need to overhaul how we conceive of what the measurement looks like so that we can capture that 21st-century big-data approach?

The NPF is a comparatively robust framework, in international terms. It has a lot of documentation and statistical backing and some sort of agreement on whether an indicator is going up or down. The Scottish Government has done a lot of work to get the statistics right. However, although it is a robust framework, it is not an accessible framework. It is hard for people to see what role they can play in it. If it is presented to a community planning manager when they begin to think about the construction of a local outcome improvement plan or a locality plan, it is difficult to see how it can relate to local matters. It is much easier to consult the Improvement Service, which has more localised measures and more experience of working with councils and local organisations.

The accessibility issue is less to do with indicators and outcomes. Indicators have to feed into outcomes. There has to be some way of making sense of movement in the outcomes, and that will come about with trade-offs and uncertainties around the measurements. That exercise will never be perfectly objective, and that is fine.

The NPF has values, and that is good in a multilateral, cross-sectoral setting. One thing that it does not have is a set of ways of working. One of the things that has been effective in Wales in the scrutiny context is that Wales has a set of ways of working that includes collaboration, participation, long-term focus and other things that are essential principles to adopt if you have an outcomes focus and a focus on collective wellbeing.


That has proved much more effective in galvanising some of the practical actions that are taken both in the planning—the strategising that Dr Elliott was talking about within and outwith the Government—and in the scrutiny function. It is much easier to look back at whether the quality of long-term planning has been there and at whether the actions have lived up to the ambitions over the long term of, for instance, five years. That layer is missing. It seems a perfect opportunity to revise and reintroduce the Christie principles—the pillars that align well to Wales—in practical guidance that organisations can access and relate to their own context.

To make them relevant locally, high-level outcomes frameworks need a process of localisation—of taking stock of the indicators and outcomes and coming up with a valid and stretching interpretation of what that means in a local context. Because of the way in which we have done aligned outcomes frameworks in Government, for example in justice, children’s wellbeing and health and social care, the alignment is done after the fact. We come up with our outcomes and then relate them to the national outcomes. Rather than its being done at the beginning, and ensuring that the alignment runs through it, it is done after the fact. A few things could be done to make the NPF more accessible and legible, particularly as it moves to a whole-society context.

The other thing is that the focus on measurement cannot be done at the expense of a focus on implementation. It would be a missed opportunity if the national statutory review focused on just the measures and the technical elements. The problem is difficult, but in a straightforward way.

I ask for a clarification. You talked about making things more accessible. There also seems to be a point about interpretation. Are you saying that, both at Government-wide level and individual directorate or agency level, there needs to be an interpretation of how outcomes are going to be influenced? It strikes me that two people will have completely different ideas on what would impact on outcomes and, unless there is a stated view in that regard, there will be no consensus. Is that a fair interpretation of what you said?

It is fair. Instead of “an interpretation”, I would say “a negotiation”—a meeting of parties that incorporates the interests of both and comes to a formalised agreement. That might mean that some local measures are important but some national indicators take precedence. Agreement on that would be set out at the outset.

Ms Wallace, I was struck by your written submission, in which you said that the processes for implementing the national outcomes are “weak”. Ultimately, are we dancing around the issue? It is good to talk about processes and about agencies, but does it not come down to individuals? Do we need to put people on the spot and make them accountable for delivering things? In our conversations, there is a sense that how individuals and agencies elect to play their part in the national framework is almost voluntary. Do we need cabinet secretaries, ministers, directorates and agencies to report against the framework? Should we make that much more explicit?

If you were looking at overhauling the community empowerment legislation and putting in its place a robust piece of legislation, that is precisely the type of thing that you would do. You would follow through the process by saying, “We are going to require those agencies to have regard to this, and we are going to nominate who they have to be accountable to for having that regard.” That is the piece that is missing. It could be done in a number of ways: for example, there could be accountability to the whole Parliament, to specific committees, to a commissioner’s office or to Audit Scotland. At the moment, in the absence of that, although the approach is not voluntary—because there is a statutory obligation on bodies—it feels voluntary, because, as you say, nobody is asking people to report on it.

That gap is often expressed as an accountability gap, because people are interested in the relationships. The perception becomes, “but you can’t make us accountable for outcomes”. That is where we lose some of the conversation about what is possible, because we all understand that, in a complex society, linear accountability for outcomes is neither possible nor desirable. Therefore, we are trying to find a way to hold people accountable for the bit that they can be responsible for, which is how they explain how they are changing their behaviours in light of the information that comes through the national outcomes and national indicators, so that we can see the golden thread.

Is that where an agreement might come into play so that, rather than an outcome or area just being assigned to an individual, there would be agreements that explained the contribution to it?

Absolutely. It might not be possible or desirable for an agency or local government to take action across all the outcomes, but an agreement that it will focus on three particular outcome areas, how they are related and who the body will work with to make things happen would be a conscious step forward from where we are now. At the moment, we place much of the change process in the context of individual culture change, instead of externalising that and trying to change the structures that created the cultural behaviours in the first place.

Thank you very much. My understanding of the matter is considerably decluttered from when we started.

The group of individuals that Daniel Johnson and I met last week in Govan began to coalesce around the word “implicit” when we asked them about the alignment between their organisations’ strategic plans and the NPF. I will start with a relatively general question to Jennifer Wallace: is it fair to say that, at the moment, the NPF operates more like a set of general principles that shape public sector culture in Scotland than a specific set of measurable outcomes?

I am not sure that I would use the word “principles”, but the principle of working towards outcomes is in place. The idea that there is an agreement in Scotland that we need to collaborate more, that we need more joined-up working and that we are doing that to improve the lives of the people whom we serve is well understood. There is no shared understanding or agreement on the process underneath that for translating that set of ambitions into something that an organisation can do and nor are there guidance, strong case studies or the types of thing that would enable people to assess whether it is important for their organisation.

The culture of Scottish civic society and public services is, as I see it, working in that direction. That is what people are trying to do, but they are doing it without a shared or clear sense of how to do it.

Ian Elliott, you mentioned in your submission that

“administrative leadership”

on the NPF has

“diminished over time.”

You have alluded to that already. Will you go into a bit more detail on who you are referring to and why that has been the case?

Yes. That picks up on something that Daniel Johnson and Jennifer Wallace said about where accountability lies. When the NPF was first established, there was a clear sense of leadership and ownership within the Scottish Government. However, more recently, I have found that there is a degree of confusion as to who owns the national performance framework.

It is curious what I hear when I speak to people. Some people say that the permanent secretary owns the NPF, some identify a particular director general or cabinet secretary, some say that it is the Scottish Leaders Forum, and some people just say that they have no idea. There seems to be a lack of clear ownership and leadership, which existed previously. That is one of the fundamental lessons that need to be taken away from the review.

To make the NPF effective, we need sustained leadership and a focus on implementation. We need to close off that implementation gap but we also need sustained leadership so that we have identifiable accountability and so that people see that the NPF will last, that it will be around for a long time and that people need to take it into account and recognise it explicitly in their plans. I have certainly found through my research that that focus has diminished over time.

When leadership was there previously, where was it coming from? Did it come from the permanent secretary or from directors general?

Way back in 2008—apologies for the slight history lesson here—it was the permanent secretary who developed the performance framework, and there were ministers who were particularly keen champions of it at the time. John Swinney has been mentioned numerous times as having provided leadership on the political side in the development of the framework; there was also leadership from the permanent secretary at the time, John Elvidge.

In the context of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, quite a few of the people I have interviewed have spoken about Peter Housden’s approach to providing leadership on the performance framework, which had more of a delivery focus. Derek Mackay, who was the finance secretary at the time, had a key role to play, as did the Scottish Leaders Forum, collectively.

Over time, it has arguably been events that have taken focus away from the framework, but there has also been a sense of a lack of focus within the Scottish Government. That might be because the approach has shifted from being a Government one to more of a whole-of-society one, in which case one of the unanswered questions is who owns it.

Where does the ownership lie if the framework is suddenly everybody’s responsibility and everybody is accountable for it? That might be something that a commissioner or another body, such as Audit Scotland, could help to unravel, but that central focus is needed, so that people can see that the approach is being led from a particular place. That is important in putting it in people’s minds.

Jen Wallace might be able to add to that.

I can add another piece of information. Again, my apologies for the history lesson—Ian Elliott and I have been involved in the subject for some time. For a number of years, there was a cross-party cabinet secretary round table on the national performance framework. It was convened in the Parliament building with members of all the parties. That was the parliamentary body that had oversight of the development of the first round of national outcomes and the indicators.

The round table met a number of stakeholders who were representing different interests, but it has not met since 2018. It had no statutory reason for meeting and no real place within the structures of Parliament. The round table happened because at that time Mr Swinney and then, I believe, Mr Mackay, were committed to it and wanted it to meet. However, in the absence of that commitment, there has not been a space in which parliamentarians have been able to explore the framework in the way that they were able to do through that round table. There was a very clear change in 2018, where we can see that lack of impetus and lack of external engagement.

I will stick with the question of leadership and ownership. In his submission, Max French made an interesting comparison between the Scottish model of appointing champions in the civil service for various outcomes, and the approach in Northern Ireland, where there were more-defined owners. However, he noted that there were significant levels of internal opposition in the public sector in Northern Ireland. Are those two things related?

Dr French

Which two things?

Has the model in Northern Ireland of appointing owners, rather than champions, so that there is very direct accountability, contributed to the internal opposition, or are those unrelated issues?

Yes it has. That comes back to the accountability point. In the Northern Irish civil service, there was an expectation that permanent secretaries and senior civil servants would at some stage be held to account, likely through a parliamentary process, for movement in national indicators. The expectation that there was some sort of accountability on the horizon surfaced people’s fears of being held to account for things that they could not control—the perennial problem with outcomes-based accountability.


Although there was some relational collaboration among the senior civil servants on the outcomes-based approach, broadly, it was a top-down imposition. At that time there was—as there is now—uncertainty or discomfort about the accountability relations, or there was dislike of being forced to take account of different measures. There was buy-in in certain sections of the civil service leadership and not in others. The head of the civil service in Northern Ireland at the time was very conducive to the approach, but the leadership subsequently changed.

Outcomes-based accountability did not broaden into a collective endeavour. There were struggles to make the technical elements work, and the decision was made to assign national indicators that were closest to the domains that civil servants were working in. It was felt that, if people were to be held to account, it was only fair that that would be in relation to the area in which they were working. However, if anything, that entrenched the silo mentality of, “This is my indicator; I don’t take account of other ones.” I would say that that linear, attributional approach worked against the endeavour to work across departments in Northern Ireland, which is difficult for a whole host of cultural and statutory reasons.

That is where some of the opposition emerged from. When the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed in 2017, many elements of that outcomes-based approach fell by the wayside. There was the opportunity to disengage and to establish resistance to it being reintroduced. There was a feeling of, “We don’t want to go back to that sort of system.” With leadership change in the head of the civil service and so on, the approach lost its champions. That is a difficult challenge for the Northern Ireland Government, the Executive Office and the civil service to work with.

I have a final, brief question. You mentioned in your written submission that the use of the national outcomes in parliamentary scrutiny in Scotland was an example of good practice. I will be honest—most, if not all, of us did not think that we were doing a good job in that regard. Could you tell us what we were doing right, because we were not aware of that?

Comparatively speaking, national outcomes and indicators are used more in the Scottish Parliament than they are in the Welsh Senedd or the Northern Ireland Assembly. Statistically speaking, there are more mentions of the national outcomes, for example, in the Scottish Parliament.

However, there are a few caveats to that. Significantly, in Scotland, one of the benefits is that we have an NPF that has a degree of solidity and recognition that the national outcomes and indicators in Wales and Northern Ireland do not have. In Wales, they talk about their act rather than their wellbeing goals, their wellbeing indicators or their milestones. Even though it is rightly challenged on a number of accounts, the NPF has a certain solidity, which might help to get it into the minds of parliamentarians, as well as those of clerks and research staff in the Parliament.

I understand that, when members reconvened for the current parliamentary session, they were briefed on what the national outcomes and indicators were and how they might be able to use them, and I understand that they have been used in different parliamentary committees from those in which they were used in previous sessions. That might be an indicator of movement towards greater usage of the framework.

However, when it comes to how the framework is used, whether by you, as parliamentarians, or by a community planning manager or a head of a Government department, that can feel very difficult to access.

Thank you—that was quite reassuring.

I want to follow up on some of those points. My first question is about how important language is. At our workshops on the NPF, we spoke to various people. When we spoke to Government officials, they talked about how the language was intangible for outsiders. When we spoke to people from Citizens Advice Scotland, they said that, although the language differed—they said that the language that they used was different from the language of the national outcomes—they felt that there was broad alignment.

Dr French, in your submission, you make the point that we should rebrand the national performance framework as Scotland’s national wellbeing framework. How important is it that we get the wording right? Should we change some of the wording?

There are two reasons for that. One of them is technical. You already have an NPF that might be given more cognisance by the Scottish Government: the national planning framework.

The other, more significant reason is that the branding is a crucial part of getting it right. A national performance framework does not excite people as much as a national wellbeing framework does. A performance framework is something that an organisation uses to regulate its processes. A national wellbeing framework would link with the galvanising interest nationally and internationally in collective wellbeing as an organising principle for society. That has attracted cross-party support and it links to a developing international agenda that has real relevance for people and public bodies.

Jen Wallace may be able to flesh that out a bit more, but I make the point that the branding and positioning are crucial to the life or death of a performance framework. It has to excite people, and a wellbeing framework excites people more than a performance framework does.

I will come to Ms Wallace in a moment, but I want to pursue this. I feel that we do not talk about the national performance framework very much. MSPs are briefed on it, but I do not hear it being mentioned specifically in the chamber or in committees. Is the experience in Wales and elsewhere that people will use frameworks more if the words are better?

Wellbeing has a cultural significance in Wales under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and policy making takes note of it as a matter of course. A long-term, cross-party societal vision has been galvanised, and it has really influenced the discourse. Its cultural impact has been exerted through the language that is used. Wales could not have got to that point if it had used different words or stuck with a performance focus. To articulate a collective aspiration that people can get involved with, that they will want to engage with and, eventually, that they cannot not engage with should be one of the aims of an implementation strategy for the NPF—or the NWF.

We will work on that.

Carnegie UK is very interested in how we can take the concepts of social progress and translate them into things that people can understand and act or convene around. Generally, we find that people can convene around, and bring a huge wealth of lived experience and professional experience to, conversations around wellbeing. They can engage with that, whereas they are less likely to be able to engage with other, more technical language.

As Max French said, we do not believe that the national performance framework is a performance framework in the classic sense. It is not a linear process to identify an A to B of how to improve performance. It is antiquated or historic, given where it came from. We have been arguing for a number of years that it is due a refresh.

The Scottish Government seems to be very committed to using the word “performance”, but we are not entirely sure why. We have said, “You could call it the national progress framework.” That would work, and it could still be called the NPF, despite the possible confusion with the national planning framework. The Scottish Government has not been willing to take that change forward, but we believe that the current language is a significant barrier to wider societal use of the framework.

People outside the core Scottish Government do not see themselves as having a role to play in a performance framework or having evidence to give to its development, whereas if we ask them whether they have evidence on how we can all live well together and work together for a better Scotland, they have plenty of evidence to bring to that conversation. Part of the opening up is to brand the work in a way that accentuates the value that we all have to bring to it.

On the extent to which we can engage the public in statistics, there is a difficulty with the number of statistics and the way in which they are presented on the website. Again, we have experimented with summary statistics of what we call gross domestic wellbeing. It was for English rather than Scottish data, and it was an exploratory programme, but, again, the message is that, when you process the information in a way that is geared to communicate with the public, they will engage with it. You need to separate out which bit of that is about communicating with the public about how we are doing as a nation and which bit of it is about communicating with managers, or indeed politicians, about how they make decisions about public finances and how to hold people to account. At the moment, the framework looks and feels as though it is too much in one direction rather than the other.

I am interested in the use of the word “performance”. You are quite critical of it and others seem to want to keep it. Is that because “performance” suggests that we can measure things, in the way that we can measure the performance of a car? We can say that it is 99, 100, 98 or whatever the figure happens to be. “Performance” suggests that we can measure it and that we can hold the Government or someone to account, whereas “wellbeing” is a vaguer word.

First, the science of wellbeing has grown massively over the past 10 years, so there is now a significant body of research and evidence on how we can identify actions that would improve wellbeing. With regard to the outcome element of it, a performance framework gives the impression of there being a linear relationship that enables you to attribute the change to the action that was carried out. You can do that with some public services and some interventions. However, when the outcome is, for example, improving children’s and young people’s wellbeing or their lives, that is not an A to B thing for which you can create an attribution chain. What we can do is say that we are making a contribution to that outcome, such as by delivering high-quality education. There is enough evidence that high-quality education improves children’s feelings of wellbeing and their external objective indicators of wellbeing, so we can make that chain.

However, we are not saying that an education department is specifically responsible for creating the entire benefit of wellbeing through that one line of accountability and through that direct attribution. That is where it differs from a traditional performance approach whereby you would create a much smaller link between your activity and your indicator and be able to say, “Yes, we moved from A to B on that,” but the chain is much broader than outcomes—

However, the Parliament tends to question how many people have got highers, how many people have got degrees, how many people are at college—those very fixed things—rather than asking, “How’s the wellbeing going?”

Yes. The point of intervention is about whether those indicators map on to what we know gives people a good life or whether something is changing within that. Is there a change in the evidence that shows that, actually, having a degree is no longer a guarantee of a good income? Are we therefore using those indicators—output indicators—as proxy measures of a good life when they no longer hold true? That is where you want the scrutiny role to ask whether the indicator acts as an outcome indicator, whether it is a proxy indicator and whether it is a relevant indicator for the current times.

Dr Elliott, I have not asked you anything. Do you want to come in on that?

The “performance” word is a bit of a problem. The framework can be perceived as a punitive thing as soon as you say that it is about performance. It can also be perceived as a top-down process in which an individual charity or local authority is being held to account by the Scottish Government. Again, that is not what was originally intended. Therefore, the idea of a wellbeing framework has a lot of merit.

One of the challenges to that is around the value for money duty and how we demonstrate value for money if there is not a clear link between the spending going to a particular initiative and a particular outcome. Therefore, I can see why the Scottish Government is keen on the idea of performance—I can see where it comes from. However, I am not sure that the national performance framework is the right tool to do some of that activity. The idea of a wellbeing framework has a lot of merit for trying to develop a different mindset and a more collaborative approach.


That ties in quite well with the question that I was going to ask next, which is about the budget—I think that Ms Wallace mentioned the budget. Government officials have commented that they do not see the national performance framework being used in the budget process. Are you saying that that is not necessarily a bad thing, or should the national performance framework and the budget be a bit more closely tied together?

Over time, there has been more ring fencing of budgets, particularly to local government, and that in itself has proved to be problematic. I would therefore caution against seeing this review as an opportunity to take more directive approaches to service delivery and to ring fence budgets around that. That has not proved to be particularly successful in delivering outcomes, so there needs to be caution about using the review in that way.

Will we then end up with a situation in which, instead of the Government saying that we have got to the 1,140 hours for childcare, some councils will say that they will use the national performance framework, they will have 1,000, 1,200 or 900 hours, and there will be a varied picture around the country? Would that be a bad thing, or would it be okay?

I suppose that we have local government so that it is accountable to local communities. Therefore, it is really up to communities. The approach is embedded in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. Where are communities in all this? How do they decide what is important to them? Where do they feed into the process? The more top down the approach is made and the less communities are empowered, the less work is done. Again, I caution against any directive approach. I do not think that that would be in line with the Christie commission principles or, indeed, the principles of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.

I think that Ms Wallace mentioned how the budget and the NPF tie together in relation to budgeting for children’s wellbeing.

The first thing that is worth noting about wellbeing budgets is that it is a very new area of international activity for Governments, and very few Governments are experimenting with them. Everything is being done in real time, and there is learning from practice in other countries and from colleagues at the OECD who are applying their own resources to understanding them. There is not a core set of principles that can be applied for a wellbeing budget, and what I am going to say needs to be seen in that context. It is difficult.

According to the analysis of children’s budgeting that Dr Trebeck did for us, where the national outcomes come in, they are very much an afterthought. They are a process at the end rather than at the start of a budgetary process. What she meant by that—we have explored this with others since her work—was that there is not an initial assessment of how people in Scotland are doing against the national outcomes that begins a process of where we should spend money. It is the other way round. It is a matter of seeing what we are spending money on and where we can spend a little more or a little less money, and then exploring that in relation to the national outcomes or the national indicators. A full wellbeing approach, whether for a portion of the population—we argued for such an approach to be taken for children and young people—or the whole population, would turn the whole process completely on its head, and it would take a considerable number of years to do it.

We speak to colleagues in New Zealand who have done a partial wellbeing budget. They would describe that as the first step in probably a 10-year process of trying to turn their budget around from where it is now to one that is fully based on an assessment of their living standards framework. However, they are doing that consciously. They know that it is a 10-year process, and they are improving every year, whereas the approach in Scotland is much more about saying, “We want to do something, and this is something that we are able to do this year.” The language and some of the processes around wellbeing are applied to pre-existing budgets without there being a long-term plan for how to get from where we are now to a better-quality, outcome-based budget for the future.

We could explore that for longer, but I will leave that to the convener.

I will bring in Liz Smith, who will be followed by Michelle Thomson.

I will explore two themes, the first of which is based on some comments that were made to the committee last week. I cannot give names, because it was a private session, but the meeting included some very senior officials in local government and the third sector. They all agreed that the national performance framework is a good thing in principle, but when they discussed its workability, they used adjectives such as “ethereal”, “anodyne”, “top-heavy” and “theoretical” to describe it. A couple of people added that they did not feel that the national performance framework was necessary, because, if they were doing their job properly, they should be already be doing the things that it sets out. I thought that that was quite an interesting reflection from people in local government who are on the front line of putting a lot of policies into practice. We were talking particularly about improvements in addressing child poverty in Dundee. How do you respond to that?

That picks up on a comment that Dr Elliott made about the Christie commission principles. If we are to get better outcomes and better wellbeing, should we be doing that through local initiatives—local people know best what works well in their local community—rather than having this big “scaffolding”, as Ms Wallace described it. There is a dilemma: there is too much at the general, national framework level, when what we really want are things that work very well locally. Could you give us your reflections on that?

There is a lot in that question; I will try to formulate my thoughts.

On the first point, about whether they should be doing such things anyway—and whether they are doing them anyway—the evidence suggests that they are doing them in their work to improve a particular outcome, but not in their work to improve a range of outcomes. It comes back to the Christie commission conversation about how we create collaborative and joined-up public services.

If we are where a number of commentators and other organisations believe that we are—that is, getting diminishing returns from working in detailed silos to improve people’s lives—and if the next set of improvements will come from joining up and finding the connections between areas such as public health, education and active travel to make all our lives better, we will need to be able to work across those silos. It is a little bit like the problematic situation in Northern Ireland that Dr French described, and the evidence is that they are not able to do that because of structural barriers.

We have created a performance framework to try to overcome those barriers, but we have not given it the tools that would allow it to do that heavy lifting, and that is what I mean by the “scaffolding”. What else does the framework need to help it deliver that?

On the comment about the framework being “theoretical”, we sometimes hear the motherhood-and-apple-pie response to a wellbeing framework. Is it not blindingly obvious that that is what we need to do? Well, yes, it is, and if you look across multiple Government frameworks—as I have had the great pleasure of doing—you will see that they are all remarkably similar. Scotland’s does not stand out as being particularly different in that regard. It has a values statement, which we believe is incredibly important, about who we are right now as the people of Scotland. That is important, and it sets Scotland apart from the others. However, there is very little difference when it comes to the content.

When a country uses a wellbeing framework, it is trying to articulate a vision and a space that say, “This is what we are trying to achieve, this is who we believe ourselves to be and this is what we are going to organise around”.

The framework is very specifically focused on trying to get away from a model of trickle-down economics that says that, if we just focus on the economy, everything else will get on better. Most of the literature comes from that background. The economy—or, certainly, gross domestic product growth—is not the answer to all of our problems, and we need other things to happen. That is a particularly important message from the environmental stakeholders, many of whom, I am sure, will have also made submissions to the inquiry.

On the issues around implementation, I think that the problem is that the story about what we are asking people to do is not very well told. They can gather around the general concept, but guidance on what they are being asked to do differently just does not exist. If we were able to give people more of that guidance it would help to resolve those issues.

I will pick up on that point. Can that be localised? I ask that because participants in a couple of the groups at last week’s workshops were very clear that they wanted more local autonomy to decide what the best thing was for wellbeing in their area.

Yes, absolutely. The only caveat with regard to localisation is the equalities point. In order to localise that sort of decision making, it must be about the wellbeing of all the people in that area. If it is a small area and statistics are limited, it might be difficult to get the views of people who are particularly marginalised in society. Therefore, you might want to add into that model some deliberative democracy—participatory engagement—so that you are not relying solely on what, at a local level, can be quite small numbers, which we know excludes some groups in society that have the worst wellbeing outcomes. The issue is that the more local you get, the harder you have to work on really understanding what is going on.

However, the principle of subsidiarity, which is what we are really talking about here, is one of the principles that Carnegie UK has identified as one of the key drivers of wellbeing. As you say, the more locally decisions are taken, the more likely they are to be taken in ways that improve wellbeing, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all, across-the-nation approach.

The participants also pointed out that that approach is better for ownership, because people in that community feel that they have devised the policies that are working. That is successful in getting people to understand them better and in getting them well motivated to deliver them. I thought that that was quite a strong point.

Yes. International examples are now coming forward of the relationship between local wellbeing frameworks—the process of localising frameworks—and activities such as participatory budgeting. We have done some of that activity in Northern Ireland over the past few years, and just this morning I saw some work from New South Wales. Again, it is about trying to make that connection between subsidiarity, participatory budgeting, participatory democracy mechanisms and the outcomes approach.

That leads on to my second question. Do you accept comments made to the committee during the workshops that ring fencing can be a bit of an issue? It was largely participants from local government who said that. They commented that there was almost too much ring fencing and that they would like the autonomy to spend some money on areas of policy where they knew that there had been good effects. That was not to do with economic statistics and much more to do with social wellbeing. Do you accept those points?

Yes. Again, at Carnegie UK, we have a significant body of research and evidence about asset-based community development in rural communities. The importance for small communities of being able to determine their own priorities and therefore feel engagement and ownership came through all of that work. If people feel that there is local ownership, that adds to the sustainability of those initiatives, which go deeper and last longer as a result. A lot of our work was about community ownership—community ownership of land and energy—but there is a sense that, at a hyperlocal level, those things can come together and create very local wellbeing approaches that are specific to the needs of those populations.

Good morning. I will touch on a couple of themes that have been peripherally discussed already. I am interested in the complexity that arises from Government accountability versus subsidiarity. The unwise or uneducated might say that it must be this or that, because they do not recognise the complexity. I will give an example.

As we know, there are many areas of critical change over which the Scottish Government has no say—fiscal and monetary levers and so on. It is on the record that the Scottish Government is trying to do something about child poverty through the Scottish child payment, but that that is clawed back via another route by the United Kingdom Government. My concern about that is not just from a political perspective but from an accountability perspective, because the Scottish Government is accountable for all these outcomes but does not have the control and the power to deliver on them.

I would appreciate the witnesses’ thoughts about that complexity, how we can start to square it off and the examples that I have read in your submissions about what you have seen of that happening elsewhere—in Ireland and Wales in particular, with regard to soft and hard powers, as Dr French put it in his submission.

Perhaps you could flesh out some of the complexities, because it strikes me that saying that it is this or that is too simple. I ask Jennifer Wallace to come in first, given that she has been looking at me and nodding, which I have taken as agreement.


I do not think that anything in complex public policy is ever this or that; there is always a mixture. The example of childcare hours was given earlier. If we interpret childcare as core infrastructure that allows a country to function, such provision might not be up for local negotiation, but we, as a country, probably need to have that conversation. Where do the differences lie as we come out of the pandemic? Are there differences from when the Parliament was established? There might well be.

How do we square that off? There is an issue about local democracy and the local democratic deficit. The connection between local people and their councils is not particularly strong. We have layers of accountability over and above that, and people sometimes appear to be accountable and sometimes appear not to be. During my career in policy in Scotland, there have been constant calls for reviews of the relationship between the Scottish Government, local government and communities—those at the hyperlocal level.

I am not sure that the national performance framework or national outcomes can resolve all that. The difficulty is that the national performance framework sits alongside an imperfect system. People think that it is about trying to resolve the problem through soft power, as Dr French referred to, or people put so much weight on it that it becomes a top-down approach, but it is neither of those things. The Scottish Government is not accountable for the national performance framework, although it might feel that it is; it is accountable only in the sense that it must have regard to the framework, according to the 2015 act. There is not the clear and linear line that some people think exists.

Does that help?

It definitely does. It would also be useful to hear some comments from Dr French and Dr Elliott.

My thoughts on the matter relate to accountability and how that can be reconciled with the extra-organisational nature of outcomes, which is intrinsic to an outcomes approach. The issue can be grappled with in two ways. We can try to hold people accountable regardless of that—the experience in Northern Ireland involves a narrow tunnel vision, with one indicator being used at the expense of all the other outcomes and indicators—or we see gaming behaviours from, for example, the work programme and the troubled families programme, which were flagship UK Government policies from the Cameron-Clegg era. The history of performance management is littered with examples of such issues.

My view—this is the emerging academic consensus—is that we should reframe our vision of accountability. We should move from attributional accountability, which involves movement in the national outcomes being assigned or attributed to the Government, to accountability being about contribution, which involves the Government being held to account for its contribution to a broad range of national outcomes or indicators in a contextually specific way.

Again, I refer to what Wales has done. A localisation process is conducted in relation to wellbeing plans, assessment and objective setting, and that process is based on a community planning partnership, a public body or local government producing a stretching attributional plan. For example, housing associations—I know that they are not held to account in Wales—think about not only repairs, occupancy rates and so on but how they could contribute to reducing antisocial behaviour or child poverty in their area. They think creatively and collaboratively about areas beyond the boundaries of their organisations in order to make a broader impact. The creation of a stretching contribution plan, which is the start of that process, has to be an accountability procedure. That is done through collaboration between the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and Audit Wales.

There needs to be a post hoc assessment of that, and not just of what has gone according to plan. Context and the intervening factors need to be taken into account and an attempt made to assess links between them. Has that creative stretching process been genuine in that context? Accountability is situational, and it is based on contribution, not attribution, and not on top-down assignment of accountability. There are examples of that in practice that show that that can be done.

The other thing that I would add—I am sorry—is that the commissioner’s oversight function has given them all the information that they feel that they need to make a valid assessment of who has stretched themselves and who has not, and to mete out that balance of soft power versus hard power. Who needs the coercion, who needs the encouragement and support, and who needs to be potentially taken to that next level of formal investigation and review?

Before you come in, Dr Elliott, you specifically mentioned the Auditor General’s role in relation to accountability, which gets more complex when policy decisions bypass the Scottish Parliament and go directly to local councils without a clear line of sight on scrutiny and accountability, and just a promise to look at it later. Do you have any thoughts about the complexity of that? I noted with interest what you said about attributive accountability; that is an interesting theme.

First, I agree with what Dr French said. The idea of a wellbeing framework has a lot of similarities with, for example, how the sustainable development goals have been set up. The philosophy that underpins the sustainable development goals is that each nation state demonstrates how it contributes towards those goals. They are not expected to tick every box and to be held to account in the way that a performance framework would facilitate; it is more about how the contribution is made, and a wellbeing framework could have a similar philosophy.

There are complexities around all that and how different bodies contribute to the different goals or outcomes. That is where collaboration plays a key part. A number of Audit Scotland reports have highlighted the need for more joined-up thinking in Scotland and the need for more collaborative leadership—for example, reports have highlighted issues with health and social care integration.

I go back to something that Liz Smith said. Do we need the framework? We definitely do, because although an individual agency or council might say that it was doing it anyway, that misses the point. It is not about what an individual organisation does; it about what the collective system does, how people work together across different parts of the system and how learning and experience are shared between the Scottish Government and local government and between local government and different arm’s-length external organisations.

Learning also needs to be taken into account; we need to encourage more learning and sharing of experience across the system and between the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government. There is a great opportunity here. Because this has been developed in slightly different ways across the devolved Administrations, there is a real opportunity to learn from the good practice that is taking place. However, I am not sure that that is happening yet. Scotland is almost a silo in itself. Can we learn more from what other Administrations are doing? The answer is absolutely yes.

My last question, the subject of which we have been dancing around, references the concept of agency. We have alluded to top-down structures and to bodies taking ownership in different ways, but we can think about the matter from a bottom-up perspective. Going back to what Jennifer Wallace said about subsidiarity, rather than thinking about the very bottom of the triangle and the person in the street, how would you go about ensuring that agency is instilled in every touch point of the national performance framework? I am thinking about the issue from a completely different perspective; we have not used the word “agency” in the evidence session today, but it is jumping out at me.

I can see that you are all thinking about that. Who wants to go first?

I will. There are really interesting developments in Scotland—for example, the Scottish Leaders Forum—in creating spaces in which to reflect and learn together. We are getting better at that and, I hope, at sharing experiences. There are ways of encouraging that by asking the right questions. That might be where there is a role for an agency of some kind to ask questions such as, “How would you go further? How would you improve your contribution? How would you develop that?”

It is about using a learning-together methodology, not scrutiny. It is about taking a much less hierarchical and much flatter approach. If we accept that we all adhere to the principles of wanting to improve lives in Scotland, and we all believe that the outcomes-based approach is a way of doing that, we need to set ourselves a set of complex reflective questions on whether we are doing enough.

We have not talked much about the environment, net zero or climate change. Our contribution as a nation to finding the solution to the climate crisis is not going to be found in the Scottish Environment Protection Agency or in the Government’s environment department; it will be found in all of us doing our piece. That is a case in point on how we should go from personal responsibility to community responsibility, with agency all the way through the system, to allow us to feel not only that we are making our contribution but that that contribution is respected by society, so it goes in both directions.

Does anyone have any last wee comments or anything to add on that?

That is a really interesting question and a worthwhile way of looking at the matter, because the national performance framework’s outcomes cannot be achieved through top-down imposition; they cannot be achieved without agency. Success will, to a large extent, depend on whether the NPF inspires that agency at various levels. That is why a branding and marketing approach to awareness raising is so important.

A similar question could be asked of the Scottish Government: why did it feel that it was important to adopt the UN sustainable development goals and seek to align with them? There was nothing forcing Scotland to do that, but it took it upon itself and used its agency because it saw that as an important thing to do. It is important to carry forward that active approach in the implementation strategy. That would involve taking stock of the public mood and focusing on whether people are responding to the strategy as an opportunity rather than as a threat.

From my perspective, agency links back to leadership. You need leadership in order to take on agency and do things.

Jen Wallace spoke about learning together; another key aspect of my research is around learning, particularly in relation to public administration. There is a bit of a gap there that needs to be addressed in terms of the wider development of leadership within Scotland—specifically in relation to public administration.

I know, for example, that the UK Government is developing a national leadership centre for civil servants—the leadership college for government. To what extent is the Scottish Government involved with that, and to what extent will it be used to develop learning across the devolved administrations and with the UK Government?

Max French and I come from Northumbria University; there are many local universities that arguably also have roles to play. However—arguably, again—there is a lack of capacity. As I mentioned in my written submission, we only have one master of public administration programme in Scotland, and one master of public policy programme, so where do we get the investment in leadership in order to make it happen? Where do we get the learning opportunities and how do we embed all that—not just within the civil service but right across the public sector? That is another aspect that needs some consideration.

Thank you, convener.


I will be brief, because I note that time has gotten away from us. I have a question about scrutiny and accountability. I imagine that the key recommendations that will come from the committee will include recommendations on whether we have a commissioner and on the role of Audit Scotland. Can you give an idea of what would the commissioner’s office would do most of the time? How many people are we talking about? How big a unit would it be?

I think that the office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has about 15 people—[Interruption.] Has it gone up? Max French has more recent information and says that it has 30 people. It is a reasonable-sized office that has a research function. It carries out primary research on how the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is being implemented, and it scrutinises plans, such as local wellbeing assessments, to assess where they meet the act’s ambitions.

I mention briefly in my submission that Scotland has not done well at explaining to the media this new way of doing business, whereas the commissioner’s office in Wales has quite a prominent media role, talking about the wellbeing of future generations and encouraging thinking about social progress in the round, through its public engagement and outreach activities. You could see that as the cluster of activities.

The commissioner’s office in Wales very rarely uses its hard powers—much of its power is soft power. However, the ability to use the hard power to call in information and to make public statements about the information that it receives is powerful.

Even if that hard power is rarely used, it has an effect—the most obvious example of which is the decision that was made on whether to build a motorway around Cardiff. Ultimately, it was the First Minister who changed the decision, but it was changed based on evidence from the research team in the commissioner’s office, who worked out how many years it would take for future generations to pay off the debt for that road. Putting that evidence into the debate changed the nature of the conversation about whether it was worth the cost. That is the type of activity that the office does.

Scotland has a number of commissioner offices already, and we have Audit Scotland, so we could look at many models from Scotland, rather than starting completely from scratch.

We spoke about decluttering earlier. I am concerned that such an office would add more clutter to the landscape.

Another function that the commissioner in Wales provides is know-how. We talked about accessibility to the national performance framework—the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’s office provides support, guidance, workshops and close personal working. It supports the Welsh Senedd in using the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and it provides training programmes and an outreach function on a much larger scale than what we have in Scotland.

One of the things that we have done well in Scotland, and for which many people who want to use it are knocking at the door, is the national performance framework. However, third sector organisations that are interested in the NPF do not know how to use it. Provision of guidance, support and shortcuts from a position of expertise on how the framework is to be embedded would enable such organisations to adopt and implement the NPF much better than they currently do. Normally, what goes on is after-the-fact signposting, which we have talked about, so scaffolding the process and providing a lot of infrastructure would be needed.

The other thing to say is that the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’s office has been operating at capacity for a number of years. It has noted to the Welsh Parliament and the Welsh Government that the scale of demand for support from the office outweighs the resources with which the office is provided. The commissioner’s office’s budget is about £1.5 million per year—it might be slightly more—but the scale of demand is pushing it beyond capacity.

More than half of that demand comes from Government—requests for support from civil servants—and the rest comes from public bodies and organisations that are not accountable through the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, but which have that wider movement-building approach.

That shows the scale of resourcing that would be needed to move the NPF from being a Government performance framework to a societal wellbeing framework.

I can provide a couple more pieces of information. I remind the committee of the previous evidence that, to the best of our understanding, there are about five people in the delivery team in the Scottish Government—there are six times as many people as that in the Welsh office, so it has significantly bigger capacity.

Another piece of historic information is that the Sustainable Development Commission’s offices were closed more than a decade ago as a result of a UK Government decision. The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales was established as a direct response to the closure of the office of the Sustainable Development Commission in Wales. Many of the commissioners from the Sustainable Development Commission were involved in the establishment of the new office: there was a clear line from the SDC closing to the setting up of the office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

There has been a longer gap in Scotland, but we can still say that, given the organisational history, a new office would be related to the work that the Sustainable Development Commission carried out prior to its abolition.

The commissioner in Wales does not carry out an audit function such as that which is carried out by Audit Wales. I am trying to think what role Audit Scotland would play.

In Wales, there are the before and after periods, with a pass-over process: the commissioner took charge at the start, then Audit Wales came in after the fact to review progress. They both have long-term scrutiny roles in relation to the broader picture.

Finally, you have mentioned a road in Wales. Who would have carried out the function in relation to that road if there were no commissioner responsible for wellbeing?

Nobody would have done that. There were several academics and non-governmental organisations campaigning to draw attention to the fact that the absence of a sustainable development commission was not in the best interests of Wales. However, until there was the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, there was nobody of that status within the system who was able to get into the decision-making process and hold people to account. The decision on the road was the First Minister’s decision, but he made it based on evidence that had been provided.

We have reached the end of our evidence session. I thank our witnesses—your detailed evidence is greatly appreciated by the committee. Next week, we will continue to take evidence on the national performance framework.

We will take a break until 12 minutes past 11.

11:07 Meeting suspended.  

11:12 On resuming—