30 July 2004
The rolling programme of in-depth Best Value audits of Scotland's 32 councils is now well under way, with the first report due to be published before the end of the summer.
Controller of audit Caroline Gardner told Public Finance that the system in Scotland would be less prescriptive than that in England but would be rigorous. 'I think we characterise it as a light-touch system but not at all a soft touch,' Gardner said.
Audit Scotland has given further details of the new Best Value audit introduced in response to the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003. It gives councils new responsibilities to improve service delivery continually and report to the public on performance.
Earlier this year, seven councils were chosen for the first year examination, reflecting a mix of size, geography and socio-economic factors. The councils are Angus, North Ayrshire, Shetland, Inverclyde, Stirling, West Lothian and Dundee. The first report will be on Angus Council.
The Act for the first time puts councils under a statutory duty to operate Best Value – previously in Scotland it operated on a voluntary basis.
Gardner said the new system would provide the first overall picture of each council's performance and would give the public an independent view of whether their council was improving. An audit would usually be carried out once every three years, with annual progress reviews in the intervening years.
The controller, who is also deputy auditor general, said a three-year system covering all councils was more practicable in Scotland, with only 32 councils, than in England.
The normal annual audit of a council's finances will continue, but the new in-depth audit will enable an examination of a much wider range of a council's activities. 'It will be focused on the broader duty of Best Value rather than the focus of most audit work in the past, which is around the way money is spent,' Gardner said.
Audit Scotland believed it supported the Scottish Executive's desire to have a descriptive, rather than a prescriptive, system.
This had given Scottish councils more room for manoeuvre. But the audit would still be rigorous and provide clear information on how a council was performing, Gardner added.