Falkirk Council: ‘Urgent change’ needed says independent watchdog in hard hitting report

Change is urgently needed at Falkirk Council, an independent watchdog has said in a hard-hitting report.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 13th January 2022, 5:00 am
Falkirk Council Leader Cecil Meiklejohn.
Falkirk Council Leader Cecil Meiklejohn.

The Accounts Commission – the independent body that holds local councils to account – says it is frustrating that progress at Falkirk Council has stalled over the past three years.

The latest Best Value report, which was published today (Thursday), says councillors are still failing to take big decisions that are needed to help the council save £70 million over the next five years.

The report says the council’s leaders now need to urgently make, and implement, those decisions to deliver sustainable services while making savings.

The Accounts Commission says it is frustrating that progress at Falkirk Council has stalled over the past three years.

But after an extensive audit, the Commission says it cannot yet have confidence the council will be able to do so.

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Its final report stresses that many services for local people in Falkirk are currently performing well, and continue to improve.

In particular, they praised Falkirk’s councillors and executives for working well to lead and support staff in tackling the impacts of Covid-19.

The pandemic saw excellent joint working between the council, the local Health and Social Care Partnership and NHS Forth Valley – and that relationship must now be strengthened, the auditors have said.

The report stresses that these organisations – along with other partners in community planning – must continue to work together.

They also want to see the implementation of long overdue locality plans – which are a legal requirement.

These aim to see agencies – such as the police and the health board – develop plans to work with the council to support the area’s most disadvantaged residents.

Again, that work isn’t happening quickly enough for the Commission.

It adds that greater benefits for local communities will also be realised by further integrating health and social care services, delivered through the Integration Joint Board.

Despite the successes, the report makes clear that there are significant underlying issues that must be addressed, including making longer-term financial decisions.

In particular, they are concerned that there has also been little change or impact from a programme set up four years ago to transform how the council works and address a growing future funding gap.

Tim McKay, interim deputy chair of the Accounts Commission said: “Change is required urgently at Falkirk Council.

“It is frustrating that there has been insufficient progress since our 2018 report.

“All councillors must fulfil their obligations to make challenging decisions for the benefit of local people.

“Councillors and officers must work together to deliver savings and deliver services differently.

“With improvement and change having been inconsistent and falling short of the Commission’s expectation, a further report in 2023 will cover what progress has been made.”

Cllr Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council, said: “As a Council, we always strive to deliver the best for the people of the Falkirk area but know more work needs to be done to do this.

“An action plan is being developed that will build on our strengths and the work already underway to address our shortcomings and make the necessary improvements to how we work and deliver services.”

Kenneth Lawrie, chief executive, Falkirk Council, added that the report’s recommendations would be “a springboard to take the important and decisive next steps” and promised to take full responsibility to lead the council on that journey of transformation.

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