MSPs launch inquiry into commissioners to consider if new approach is needed

Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Public Administration Committee will look at whether there is a “coherent and strategic approach” to commissions in Scotland
Scottish parliament. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Louise Wilson

19 Dec 2023

MSPs are to investigate the number of commissioners in Scotland following concerns about ballooning costs.

The Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Public Administration Committee has launched an inquiry into the commissioner landscape, looking at whether there is a “coherent and strategic approach”.

There are seven commissioners in Scotland, who together cost £16.6m in 2023-24.

That covers the staff and running costs for each office, though the amount for each varies with the lowets at £300,000 for the year and the largest at £6.7m.

An eighth, the patient safety commissioner, was agreed earlier this year with an anticipated cost of £645,000 per year.

The creation of a further six commissioner posts are currently being proposed by both government and backbench MSPs.

Committee convener Kenneth Gibson said: “The Scottish Government has already stated there is very little published research on commissioners in Scotland – or the UK – and little evaluation exploring their pros and cons, powers or ways of working.

“Our committee will therefore investigate whether a more coherent and strategic approach is needed for the creation of such commissioners in Scotland.”

The current commissioners have a range of remits, covering children and young people, human rights, freedom of information, ethics in public life, public services, the handling of biometric data and standards in public life.

Proposals for future posts include a neurodiversity commissioner and an older person’s commissioner.

Former Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw has previously voiced concerns about the matter, telling Holyrood in an interview earlier this year that such posts were taking powers away from the parliament.

He said: “This seems to be a whole new layer of government that we're putting in that isn't elected, isn't really very accountable, and are discussing things that I thought the parliament was originally set up to discuss.

“But we seem to be devolving responsibility away from ourselves to a body that really isn't elected or accountable, and we're doing it without really thinking about it.”

This story was written by Louise Wilson, political editor at our sister publication Holyrood, where the article first appeared

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