Scots councils face difficult choices, say auditors
By Keith Aitken in Edinburgh | 15 March 2012
Scottish councils might not be
able to continue to improve their performance across all areas as financial
pressures mount, Scotland’s spending watchdog has concluded.
In its annual Local government overview, published today, the Accounts Commission
for Scotland says the nation’s councils – elected under proportional
representation for the first time five years ago – have ‘generally worked
well’. There was also praise for councils’ effort to cut costs.
The 2007 local elections, the
first to be held under the Single Transferable Vote system, broke Labour’s
traditional dominance of Scotland’s council chambers, leaving all but two under
minority or shared control.
The Accounts Commission predicts
further change, in membership and possibly political control, after May 3 this
year, when all 32 unitary authorities, with a combined budget totalling £21bn,
‘Overall, the financial context
and the elections present challenges and change but they also provide
opportunities for fresh thinking on service design and delivery,’ it says.
The commission report, prepared by
Audit Scotland, pulls together audits of councils’ finances, Best Value and
overall performance up to the end of last year. It says the local authorities
have mostly operated within budget and saved on pay and staff numbers, though
further work is needed to clear maintenance backlogs, improve procurement
procedures and renew strategic partnerships.
‘We acknowledge in the current
financial and political context it is unlikely that local authorities will be
able to improve performance in all outcome and service areas and across all
aspects of corporate activity,’ the report says.
It recognises the difficult
spending choices councillors face: ‘However we expect to see evidence of
effective governance and service delivery which, in partnership with others,
provide best value for local communities.’
Commission chair John Baillie
said: ‘I recognise the scale of the task facing local authorities and welcome
the progress they have made in recent years.
‘The year ahead offers
opportunities for fresh thinking on how best to improve outcomes for people and
communities across Scotland. Those elected in May will need to get up to speed
quickly. They will have to deal
with difficult choices and will need good support and advice from the outset.’
Sarah Boyack, Labour's shadow local government secretary, said the report showed that the Scottish National Party government at Holyrood 'have taken the Tory cut, doubled it and passed it on to councils'.
But Pat Watters, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said he agreed with the report's conclusions that councils had coped well with financial pressures.