THERE is an information black hole at the centre of one of the Scottish Government’s biggest and most expensive projects, MSPs have warned.

Holyrood’s health committee said a lack of transparency about the £8bn spent each year by local boards integrating health and social care services was “unacceptable”.

The problem made budget scrutiny of Integration Authorities (IAs) “very challenging”.

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The 31 bodies, established in April 2016, are intended to coordinate NHS and council care services, with reducing delayed discharges from hospital a key goal.

But Committee convener Neil Findlay said there were concerns that increasing bureaucracy meant different agencies can "blame each other for the lack of progress with integration".

He said: “There's a distinct lack of data to identify and evaluate outcomes, including spending and savings. This would be unacceptable for any public money let alone over £8bn. It needs rectifying immediately and a [scrutiny] mechanism... put in place."

The committee report said that while IAs had an overall budget of £8.29bn there was “no breakdown of this figure to individual integration authority level”.

It expressed concern that some had agreed their budgets without confirming how to make savings - and asked if SNP ministers thought that was acceptable.

The MSPs said: "We are very concerned IAs are taking allocation and investment decisions without assessing, or even possessing the ability to assess, the relationship between and effectiveness of spending on outcomes.

"The complete lack of benchmarking or assessment of performance across IA must be addressed. Only in this way can efficiencies and best practices be identified.

"The Scottish Government must have confidence its priorities are being met. There is currently very little data on the overall performance of IAs or information on how they are allocating their money.

"The inability of the Scottish Government to evaluate IAs' performance against its own priorities cannot be desirable, an issue which must be resolved as a matter of priority."

Mr Findlay said: "We are recommending to the Government that leadership is needed from the chief officers of each IA to deliver value for the public purse, the necessary changes we highlight along with the promised transformation in the way these vital services are delivered."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Integration is one of the most ambitious programmes of work this Government has ever undertaken.

"It is already delivering health and social care services that are working more efficiently, putting people at the very heart of treatment decisions.

"This year's Audit Scotland report noted that Integration Authorities were beginning to have a positive impact, particularly with national improvement in delayed discharge.

"Further achievements include the delivery of the Scottish Living Wage for all adult social care workers, support in the community to enable GPs to focus on their core tasks, and savings of around 250 million in 2016/17.

"We will continue to monitor the budgets and effectiveness of Integration Authorities to ensure they deliver on agreed outcomes."