Auditors warn East Dunbartonshire on savings plan viability

16 Dec 16

Scotland’s local government watchdog has reiterated concerns about the finances of East Dunbartonshire Council and warned the authority is not on schedule to make the £27.6m in savings it needs in the next three years.

In its latest examination of the council’s plans, the Accounts Commission said East Dunbartonshire had made progress since concerns were raised in December 2013 and a June 2015 follow up that concluded the council was not managing resources effectively.

However, the commission said it remained concerned that significant issues had not been adequately addressed.

In particular, the review queried the council’s plan to achieve £27.6m in savings the authority has estimated it will need to meet lower funding levels. The council has a programme intended to make these savings, but much of the plan remains behind schedule, which must be rectified, the commission stated. Areas of the transformation plan include developing community hubs for services and introducing an electronic document and records management system that can potentially develop significant efficiencies.

According to the review, improvements have been made in financial management but there are concerns about the range of skills and experience in the financial team to sustain them. East Dunbartonshire is now looking at sharing services with neighbouring councils but it is not yet clear what savings will result.

As a result, the commission remains "concerned" that the council does not demonstrate adequate capability to deliver its transformation programme and meet the budget shortfall. It had failed to meet targets and there is a lack of clarity about savings to be achieved.

“All councils face future funding gaps and are having to make radical changes in how services are provided,” Accounts Commission chair Douglas Sinclair said.

“East Dunbartonshire needs to significantly up its game to deliver on its ambitions."

Responding to the report, council leader Rhondda Geekie said the authority had worked closely with the commission and Audit Scotland throughout ‘best value’ audit reviews and would continue to do so.
“But I am disappointed that, despite the commission’s findings identifying the improvements we have demonstrated since our last best value audit, their media emphasis is on ‘concern’ and ‘capability’.”

She said the report recognised that the authority is demonstrating better prioritisation of improvement projects and stronger aspects of workforce planning, as well as better scrutiny by elected members.

“While the commission acknowledges this, it goes on to challenge our capacity to deliver our ambitious transformation programme.

“However, in East Dunbartonshire we have successfully delivered savings of £40m in the eight years to 2015/16, delivering balanced budgets every year. And whilst we face a further deficit for this current year and the next two years, totalling £27m over the three years, I make no apologies for our ambitious transformation programme.

“Of course our ambition is not without risk, but as we have previously advised the Accounts Commission, we have every intention of managing that risk.”

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