01 October 2004
Audit Scotland has clashed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) over the spending watchdog's claim that more than £170m of public money is being lost through non-payment and inefficiency.
In its annual report published on September 23, Audit Scotland said that around £178m could be used better. This sum included £130m in outstanding council tax payments and £28.5m in unpaid rents.
In addition, £14m could be saved through improved prescribing by GPs and £6m through better hospital catering.
Auditor general Bob Black said the public sector in Scotland spent more than £20bn a year and that Audit Scotland's job was to ensure that it was spent properly, efficiently and effectively.
He said he was pleased to report that, in 2003/04, financial stewardship across the three key sectors: the NHS, local government and central government, was generally sound, although he noted that the NHS continued to face severe financial pressures.
However, Black's comments on money that could be used better resulted in an angry response from Cosla. 'Once again we see Audit Scotland leading with the negative,' said finance spokesman John Pentland. 'I think it is both inappropriate and unhelpful that, instead of acknowledging the positive efforts of councils in relation to council tax collection, what we see is a line from them about funds having the opportunity to be better used.'
Pentland said councils had performed better this year than ever before, collecting 91.5% of the council tax. 'Yet all we have is Audit Scotland still wanting us to raise our game – I have no problem with them seeking further improvement but would also appreciate a bit of credit where credit is due,' he said.
In its report, Audit Scotland said there were continuing improvements in councils' financial controls.
In the further education sector, there were signs that the majority of colleges were on target to be financially secure by 2006.