Falkirk Council must work together to make it work

Falkirk Council needs to introduce faster and more ambitious change to deliver and protect services across the district.
Falkirk Council needs to introduce faster and more ambitious change to deliver and protect services across the district.

The Accounts Commission’s probe into how Falkirk Council operates identified failings it admits will need urgent action to address.

Such is the scale of the challenge facing elected members and officers to deliver more effective political and managerial leadership, the local government watchdogs will be back at the end of next year to check on their progress with its recommendations.

The pace and size of the change required to hit savings targets over the next three years is daunting. Its approach to scrutiny, performance management and performance reporting are all key to it being able to deliver by the 2018 deadline.

The commission has made it clear everyone has to work together to make it happen.

Falkirk Council cannot afford to continue spending at its current levels, must develop clear and detailed plans for how it will make savings and councillors must work together and take collective responsibility for decisions.

The commission concedes the council faces “tough decisions” in a difficult financial environment and makes it clear ‘teamwork’ is needed to run the business efficiently.

The report underlines: “Political leadership is required to transform council services. All councillors need to understand their role.”

Douglas Sinclair, chairman of the Accounts Commission, wants to see Falkirk Council embrace “faster and more ambitious” change and concerned the current approach is inadequate to ensure that service standards are maintained and improved.

He warned: “It 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 and how spending reductions will impact on services and the people who use them.”

The council has been urged to critically assess current arrangements - and even look at how other councils and organisations provide services.

Its current savings options set out the saving the council will make and the impact on services for people who use them. But councillors are not provided with information on the costs and benefits of alternative options such as redesigning services.

The report also points to the fact the council’s business transformation project is officer-led and the involvement of councillors has been limited.

The Business Transformation Project Board led by the Chief Executive and two corporate directors now includes the Corporate Management Team, but still has no councillor membership.

The Accounts Commission points out: “Councils that have taken action to improve how they carry out their business has demonstrated that cross-party forums or joint working groups can be an effective way of bringing councillors from different political perspectives together to address major challenges.

“Falkirk Council should consider if a cross-party working group would be appropriate to help it meet some of the financial challenges it faces and make the service delivery decisions needed.”