Council making slow progress bringing in key improvements

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Over a year after being warned a ‘team’ effort is needed to deliver value for money services, spending watchdogs have told Falkirk Council it still has work to do.

In its latest report, Audit Scotland says the pace of change at the town hall is still slow.

Councillors and officers are under pressure to agree a ‘Best Value’ plan that will produce an effective financial strategy in the medium to long term.

Nationally, the Accounts Commission wants all 32 local authorities to show how they intend to prioritise spending, make savings and remain financially sustainable to provide the services communities need within the resources available.

Last August a report prepared by Audit Scotland for the Accounts Commission criticised the way Falkirk Council is being run.

It said the council’s approach to Best Value and its financial challenges was “inadequate” and demanded “more effective political and managerial leadership to respond urgently to the significant gap between identified savings and current unsustainable levels of spending.”

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

Audit Scotland’s follow-up report following an audit of the council over April and May concludes: “Despite a significant amount of activity taking place in response to the recommendations, the pace of change at the council is still slow. It has a number of improvement activities working in parallel, but it is not clear how these relate to the council’s strategic priorities and budget setting process.

“The recruitment of a ‘Change Manager’ demonstrates awareness of the need to do more, but this person will need to be supported at the hughest level.

“The council needs to agree priorities. The corporate management team needs to work differently and lead a coordinated approach to deliver them.

“The financial challenges facing the council have continued to increase with a three-year budget gap of £46 million between 2015/16 and 2017/18 increasing to £61 million over the same timeframe between 2016/17 and 2018/19.

“Falkirk Council will need to increase its pace of improvement and change the way it delivers services to respond to these pressures. Reliance on small scale savings and workforce reductions will not be sufficient.”

The council agreed its Best Value plan last October. Progress is reviewed regularly by Provost Pat Reid, leader of the administration Councillor Craig Martin and Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of the SNP Group.

In her update to the council, chief executive Mary Pitcaithly said: “In March the Accounts Commission published an overview of local goverment in Scotland.

“The recommendations included examining opportunities to work with communities to deliver services in different ways and learning lessons from others and from wider public service reform.

“Councillors should ensure they get all the necessary information and support from officers to help them fully assess the benefits and risks of each option. They should ensure the council continues to develop workforce strategies and plans that clarify the numbers and skills of staff needed in the future to help them make the difficult decisions that lie ahead.

“Both the national overview report and the council’s Best Value audit follow up report move the best value agenda on from my last update in March.

“Our Best Value improvement plan now requires to be reflective of both of these documents. The council’s response will be critical to driving change and improvement in the future.”