Scotland's public sector requires strong leadership and clear priorities if it is to cope with the "most difficult financial conditions since devolution", according to Audit Scotland.
Over the next four years, public sector budgets in Scotland will drop from £29.2bn to £25.9bn – down 6% in 2011/12 and 11% in 2014/15, according a report published today (25 August 2011).
Audit Scotland says public bodies are facing increasing pressures and demands, such as Scotland's ageing population, the effects of the recent recession, and the public sector's maintenance backlog.
The report says pay restraint and reducing workforces are the most common approaches being taken by public bodies to reduce costs over the next few years, with many bodies already beginning to make staff cuts through recruitment freezes and voluntary redundancy schemes.
It encourages public bodies to focus on planning their budgets and workforces to enable them to focus on the sector's long-term financial sustainability and ensure effective public services in the future.
Commenting on the report's findings, BMA Scotland warned against politicians using the NHS "as a political football" amid falling budgets.
"It is important that in responding to the challenges, our politicians do not get bogged down by tribal politics and instead look to the dedicated professionals working across the public sector to help them to make the changes and achieve the savings without compromising on the service or care provided to the public," said Dr Brian Keighley, Chairman of BMA Scotland.
"It is disappointing that cuts to the NHS workforce and attacks on doctors' contracts have been identified by politicians as the way to navigate through these difficult financial times.
"While this might deliver some savings in the short term, this approach will have a long-term and persistent damaging impact on morale and patient care.
Dr Keighley added: "It is vital the Scottish government is honest to both NHS workers and the public as to what it can and cannot deliver in financially straightened times."
"Workforce morale is a valuable asset in tough financial times and managers and politicians must harness the goodwill of doctors and other clinical professionals to lead the reform of services that will achieve savings with minimal impact on patient care."
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"The Scottish government should be more transparent and honest with its population and focus more on preventative aspects of educating for health rather than focusing on the need to increase spending. Good health is such a bonus we can all benefit from – wherever possible looking after ourselves is the first step for the long term" – V Henry, London