Accounts Commission calls for clearer leadership and direction at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
The Accounts Commission, the independent body that holds councils to account, has published a report raising concerns about the need for necessary improvements and strong leadership from councillors at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Poor housing availability is a key issue and the area has the most severe fuel poverty in Scotland.
The commission argues that while Comhairle has improved education services and grown the local economy, its redesign of services has resulted in fewer savings than expected, and the pace of change has been too slow. Both the performance of and public satisfaction with some services has dropped over the past five years.
However, the report highlights that the Comhairle has had the largest decrease in funding in real terms of any Scottish local authority over many years. This important point provides context to the Comhairle’s work to implement local initiatives and projects, and to support the local economy. The report emphasises how critical the Comhairle’s financial position is in meeting the challenges ahead.
These challenges place significant pressure on recruiting staff, particularly in critical areas such as social care.
William Moyes, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “The Comhairle must urgently develop a prioritised action plan to address the serious issues it faces. It already has some of the elements it needs to make fundamental changes; it has an ambitious vision for the future and works well with communities and other partners.
“But without clear strategic direction and leadership from its councillors, supported effectively by officers, as well as crucial effective financial and capital planning, it remains uncertain whether the Comhairle can achieve the improvements it needs to make.”
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar responded saying it welcomes the newly published best value assurance report from Audit Scotland and that it accepts the recommendations and will be implementing an action plan.
The Comhairle has said it fully accepts the challenges that it continues to face, particularly in the light of the financial situation facing local government. It noted that its ability to increase the pace of change and develop policies and strategies for achieving improvement are heavily influenced by the challenges of finance, workforce and leadership capacity. Also, the risks associated with depopulation remain a concern for the Comhairle and it plans to continue to work with partners to address these through strategic work.
The Comhairle’s leader, Paul Steele, said: “The Comhairle is committed to transparency and accountability in all we do and welcomes this report as an important contribution to that commitment. The report identifies many of the key strengths of the Comhairle and describes some of the challenges we face.
“We agree with Audit Scotland on the importance of clear and strategic policy, long term financial planning and the Comhairle calls on the Scottish Government, once again, to implement a multi-year settlement which will allow for greater security for councils to plan and deliver improvements and change.
“We have campaigned vigorously against the cuts which all local authorities but particularly the Comhairle, have had to endure in recent years. No one recognises more than the Comhairle the challenges of depopulation, providing social care and tackling fuel poverty.
“We note the findings of the Accounts Commission and remain committed to working for our communities in a challenging financial climate exacerbated by Covid and Brexit.”