The Scottish Government needs to be more transparent about its spending on the pandemic, auditors have said, following an analysis of its yearly accounts.
Audit Scotland said the Government’s budget grew to £50.1 billion in 2020/21, an increase of 27% from the previous year.
It allocated £8.6 billion of Barnett consequentials – its share of UK Government funding – to financing Covid-19 activity.
The audit identified an underspend of £580 million, though some of this was due to Barnett money being carried forward into the next financial year.
Auditor General Stephen Boyle said there needed to be a clearer link between budgets, funding announcements and spending.
The need to get business support money out quickly meant there was a higher risk that cash could be lost to fraud or errors, he said.
Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government had to act quickly and decisively to respond to the huge threats the pandemic posed to lives, public safety, jobs and the economy.
“As a result, it needed to distribute very large amounts of money quickly, and sometimes had to accept higher risk on this than normal.
“The Scottish Government now needs to be more proactive in showing where and how this money was spent, and show a clearer line from budgets to funding announcements to actual spending.
“This will support scrutiny and transparency of a matter of such significant public interest and importance.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “This is the sixteenth consecutive year our accounts have received an unqualified opinion from Audit Scotland, demonstrating the Scottish Government’s sound and transparent management of the country’s finances.
“We put the people we serve at the heart of everything we do and, like other governments around the world, we have listened to businesses and tailored our support during this exceptional year to support jobs and the economy to stimulate a sustainable recovery.”
He continued: “We have endeavoured to be fully transparent by reporting a further level of detail than what would normally be required by the budgetary and accounting classifications required in these accounts.
“The Finance Secretary has also detailed to Parliament, through the Budget and regular budget revisions, where the consequential funding is being spent.”
Responding to Audit Scotland’s report, Scottish Conservative finance spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “This is all too typical of the SNP.
“They have record funding at their disposal thanks to the UK Government, but have failed to be upfront over where it has been spent.
“Taxpayers deserve to know how billions of pounds of their money was distributed during the pandemic, rather than being kept in the dark over SNP funding decisions.
“As we continue to fight the pandemic, SNP ministers must urgently commit to making sure Covid spending is as transparent as possible and subject to scrutiny.”