Pessimistic Outlook for Scottish Public Services in Deloitte Report


As the Scottish Government faces mounting criticism for budget failures across the board and a decline of standards in public services, a new report from Deloitte highlights the serious challenge faced by Scottish public services in 2024.

  • New research from Deloitte finds that successive crises have left Scottish public services “fragile”;
  • The survey finds the Scottish public pessimistic for the years ahead, with 63% expecting NHS waiting lists to get worse;
  • However, pessimism around the cost-of-living has started to abate, with the percentage of the Scottish public who believe the crisis will get worse dropping from 75% last year to 60% now;
  • Scottish adults want the government to prioritise cost-of-living and NHS waiting lists over the next few years, with affordable housing, economic growth and climate change also high on their agenda;
  • Scotland is the only UK nation where more favour higher spending over tax cuts in return for improved services.

Scottish public services have been left “fragile” and workforces are “tired”, according to research from a new report delivered by Deloitte and the independent think tank, Reform.

Findings from The State of the State 2024, an annual report that examines attitudes to government and public services, also found that public sector leaders believe that finances are unsustainable, and that the Scottish Government needs to prioritise what it does and doesn’t do to match aspirations with available resource.

The report included a survey, conducted by Ipsos UK, of 5,815 UK adults aged 16-75, which included 821 people from Scotland, as well as in depth interviews with more than 100 leaders from across the public sector.

Some public sector leaders report only seeing minimal changes made to public services, or, as one interviewee said, “tinkering around the edges”. Interviewees also noted the need for structural system-wide reform which will allow the sector to prioritise, work towards a collective vision, and enhance its ability to deliver a sector-wide plan for the future.

Several leaders called for greater investment in preventative measures across public services, which they sensed had been scaled back due to budget constraints.

However public leaders also pointed to reasons for optimism, with strengths in higher education, wealth of natural resources and the potential for net zero transition, the opportunity of which, as pointed out by one interviewee, is time critical.

Lesley Smillie, who leads Deloitte’s public sector team in Scotland, said: “Since 2012, the State of the State report has highlighted an ever-growing divergence between the politics and policies of the devolved administrations and the UK Government.

“This year’s report is set against a challenging backdrop, with years of successive crises, tight budgets and mounting pressure on public finances taking their toll on our public services and resulting in a tired workforce.

“What is clear from the report is a real need for systemic change, which can’t solely be achieved by improved efficiencies and productivity. The public wants greater stability, and addressing patterns of demand and setting clear priorities will be essential to provide a glimmer of hope for the Scottish public in the months ahead.”

Cost of living and NHS top public priorities

For the second year running, the cost-of-living crisis was listed as the Scottish public’s top concern, mentioned by 82% of people, four percentage points higher than the UK average. The next biggest issue in both Scotland and across the rest of the UK was NHS waiting lists, with 74% of the Scottish public saying they should be a government priority.

Concerns about the state of the country’s infrastructure rose by eight percentage points in the last year, now mentioned by 40%. The availability of affordable housing has also risen by six percentage points, putting it level with climate change and economic growth as a public priority in Scotland, at 46%.

The research also found some notable differences in priorities between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Scotland stands out as the UK nation with the highest preference towards higher public spending: 36% of Scots want to see higher taxes to fund improved public services, compared to a UK average of 30%.

Scots are less worried about crime and immigration than those south of the border, with just 35% of respondents in Scotland wanting the government to prioritise crime and policing as a priority, compared to 48% in England. Likewise, 33% of Scots want to prioritise immigration, compared to 45% in England.

Looking ahead to the future

The overall outlook for Scotland was pessimistic, with 63% of people expecting NHS waiting lists to get worse in the years ahead, 60% expecting the cost-of-living to worsen, and 57% expecting the availability of affordable housing to get worse.

Asked how they would like to see public services improved, the top priority cited by 49% of people in Scotland was ease and speed of access. The second most popular answer was accountability (38%), while the third was that people expect services to be the same wherever they live (35%). This was closely followed by ease of communications (34%), and final quality of services (33%).

Lower ranking priorities included collaboration with the private or voluntary sectors, data sharing between agencies, and personalisation, suggesting that the public has limited interest in the organisational structure of public services, caring instead about the outcomes they produce.

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