Blunt report lays bare Falkirk Council failings

The Accounts Commission report is out today
The Accounts Commission report is out today
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Public spending watchdogs have told Falkirk Council to work together to deliver the same or better standard of service for less money.

A report from the Accounts Commission warns more effective political and managerial leadership is needed to respond urgently to the significant gap between the council’s identified savings and its current “unsustainable” level of spending.

The council must save £46 million over the next three years.

Audit Scotland scrutinised its performance over two months at the end of last year, interviewing senior officers and councillors and sitting in on a range of council and committee meetings.

The conclusions are a “wake up call” for everybody on the town hall payroll.

Douglas Sinclair, chairman of the Accounts Commission, said: “Falkirk Council needs to do a great deal to provide assurance that it can deal with the financial challenges ahead.

“It must commit to a more ambitious financial plan that clearly sets out its priorities on how spending reductions will impact on services and the people who use them.

“There needs to be better leadership and councillors must fully engage with the new scrutiny arrangements which will be essential when difficult decisions inevitably need to be made.”

The 35-page report, released today (Thursday), into how effectively Falkirk Council does its job pulls no punches.

The Accounts Commission, which works with all 32 councils in Scotland to help them improve, blames the refusal of councillors from opposite sides of the political divide to work with each other for some of the failings.

It also concludes senior managers need to provide more effective leadership and work with councillors to ensure they develop plans that will lead to the “significant” changes required.

The report says bluntly: “The political management arrangements implemented in 2013 should have allowed he council to conduct its business effectively, but long-standing political differences and heightened political tensions led to difficult and unproductive working relationships and some councillors did not participate in the arrangements.

“For two years, councillors’ non-participation hampered the council’s ability to carry out effective scrutiny and as a result they were not as effective as they should have been.”

The report prepared by Audit Scotland for the Commission also puts the spotlight on the council’s handling of its budget.

It says faced with having to save £46 million over the next three years, using reserves to ‘balance the books’ and saving money by reducing services or increasing charges is not the way ahead.

It warns: “The council needs to significantly reduce its spending, but its plans to provide services differently are not on a big enough scale to meet the major challenges it faces.”

COUNCIL LEADER CALLS FOR COUNCILLORS TO GET TOGETHER

Falkirk Council’s leader has urged all elected members to get together to tackle the concerns raised by the Accounts Commission.

Councillor Craig Martin said “many” of the issues have to be addressed - by all parties - to deliver a better deal for the people of Falkirk district.

He admitted: “The report makes a number of criticisms which we all have to be brave enough to take on board.

“I fully accept we are not moving at the pace the Commission would like and, while some councillors might not agree, it is up to every one of us to take notice of what has been said and move forward together.

“We have to work with our officers to bring forward reasonable, measurable and achievable action plans to enable us to meet the Commission’s expectations.

“It would be irresponsible for elected members not to work towards that in a constructive and reasonable manner for the benefit of the people who elected us.”

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of the SNP Group on the council, said: “The report is in stark contrast to the one published in 2008 which reflected the time of an SNP led administration.

“The unbalanced and undemocratic decision making structure introduced by the Labour/Tory independent administration in 2013 has made it impossible for the opposition to call it to account.”