Accounts Commission highlights financial challenges facing local authorities

pound-money-stockNewly elected councillors in May need to focus on improving long-term planning to tackles the major financial challenges facing Scotland’s local authorities, according to a new report from the Accounts Commission.

In its 2017 overview published today, the local government spending watchdog has outlined a long-term decline in Scottish Government real terms funding which makes up around 60 per cent of council income.

At the same time, there continues to be increasing pressures on services, particularly in social care and education which together account for over 70 per cent of council spending, it added.

The report said councils overall have maintained or improved their performance in the face of these challenges. However, public satisfaction is declining and complaints are increasing. Looking ahead, the Accounts Commission urged councils to better involve their communities in service design and deliver.

The report also found “wide variations” between the performances of councils in coping with continual financial squeezes.

Some have grasped the nettle in finding new ways to provide services more efficiently, while others have been slower off the mark. Councils have made savings by cutting jobs but half of them still don’t have organisation-wide workforce plans.

Councils must learn more from each other and collaborate better to improve services and reduce costs, it said.

Elections will be held in all 32 authorities in Scotland in May.

The Accounts Commission said the elected councillors must have the necessary training and tools to do an increasingly complex job determining local priorities, overseeing delivery of essential services and working in partnership with other public bodies to improve outcomes for communities and individuals.

Ronnie Hinds, deputy chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “New councillors will require time to settle in and develop skills to make strategic plans, consider options for service delivery and scrutinise how well this is happening in practice.

“But they have four years ahead of them, and they need to plan effectively for the longer term, work with their communities to decide key priorities and then make that plan happen.

“We hope our report is helpful to councillors and officers as they strive to maintain or improve services for the public with reduced resources.”

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