Council says new audit report is positive move

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South Ayrshire Council says clear and effective leadership and a positive improvement culture are recognised in an inspection report that will be considered by the Accounts Commission later this week.

The Council’s Best Value Report – completed by Audit Scotland following a recent inspection visit – is the third report on the Council by auditors in 28 months. It will be presented to the Accounts Commission, the public spending watchdog for local government, at its meeting on Thursday 9 June.

The main themes outlined in the report are: The Council has made sustained and positive improvement and progress over the last 28 months and there is a clear improvement culture across the organisation; There is clear, strong and effective corporate leadership from both elected members and the corporate management team; The new scrutiny arrangements are working well and starting to make a difference; The Council has clear strategic direction and is focused on delivering priorities, improvements and positive outcomes for people and communities in South Ayrshire.

In particular, the auditors recognise the importance of the Best Value Working Group – a cross-party group of elected members and senior officers – and the overall commitment to driving forward improvement and change throughout the Council.

The report highlights the need to keep up the good work, particularly in the challenging financial climate facing local government. Audit Scotland sets out that the Council should focus on maintaining strong leadership and revising medium and long-term financial plans and reserves strategy to ensure sustainability.

South Ayrshire Council Leader, Councillor Bill McIntosh, said: “While we obviously have to wait and see what the Accounts Commission thinks about the report, it’s a very positive and encouraging read that shows the tremendous progress we’ve made over the last couple of years.

“There has been significant movement on all areas of concern previously identified – leadership and culture, performance management and scrutiny – and, crucially, the work has been taken forward in a way to ensure the changes are long-lasting and sustainable.

“Of course, we still have further to go, so we are certainly not complacent about the work – and the challenges – that lie ahead and we appreciate Audit Scotland’s consideration of the impact of increased demand, increased costs and reduced funds on service delivery across local government.

“However, it’s clear we’re moving in the right direction, with the support of our elected members and our employees, and working to provide best value for our people and communities at all times.”

The Accounts Commission will consider the details of the Audit Scotland report before determining its own findings and any actions required of the Council. The full best value audit report – including the Commission’s findings – is expected to be published at the end of the month.

Audit Scotland recently revisited the Council as part of an inspection programme that was established with the publication of a critical best value audit report in February 2014.

At that time, auditors reported that, despite some signs of progress over the previous year, the Council could not demonstrate that it was achieving best value. This was due to what was described as “significant weaknesses” in strategic direction, leadership, performance management and scrutiny. And the Accounts Commission expressed serious concern about the council’s ability to fulfil best value responsibilities and achieve continuous improvement.

In response, the Council says it has put a robust action plan in place which included the establishment of a Best Value Working Group (made up of Councillors and officers), a review of scrutiny arrangements, a programme of service reviews, a revised approach to strategic planning and the restructure of senior management posts.

The report to the Accounts Commission on 9 June considers progress since December 2014.