Services provided by East Dunbartonshire Council “at risk”, warns report

A new report has highlighted “serious concerns” over the financial control of East Dunbartonshire Council.

Public spending watchdog, The Accounts Commission, said there was a risk services could not be maintained without improvements in the way the council was run.

But it recognised, however, that the authority currently delivered good services.

The council needs to save £22.3m – 10 per cent of its budget – by 2017/18.

On top of that, council reserves are low and are projected to fall further, the report said.

The Accounts Commission is the public spending watchdog for local government in Scotland.

In its report, the commission said the council urgently needed “clearer priorities” in its transformation programme to ensure key projects were completed and savings made.

The report recognised the council’s “commitment to improvement” but added it was concerned about the pace of those improvements.

Deficiencies highlighted include financial control and management of resources.

New scrutiny arrangements are ineffective, it said. Councillors should specify what information they need and be provided with jargon-free and understandable reports so that they can hold officers to account.

The chairman of the commission, Douglas Sinclair, said: “There is a gap between the council’s ambition and seeing evidence of that on the ground. This is what East Dunbartonshire needs to address if it is to continue to deliver good quality services in the future.”

The Commission has asked the Controller of Audit for an update on the council’s progress by the end of 2016.

In response, Council Leader Rhondda Geekie said East Dunbartonshire Council would be considering the findings of the Accounts Commission at a meeting on June 25.

She added: “In advance of our council consideration of the report, I would highlight that the East Dunbartonshire Council Targeted Best Value Report concludes:

“East Dunbartonshire Council delivers good quality services and has delivered efficiencies through its approach to transformation and revised service delivery.

“The council is consistently one of the highest performing education authorities in Scotland and the most improved over the past decade.

“The council has made good progress in improving its procurement function - in fact the council has had the highest level of procurement improvement in Scotland for each of the last two years - following successful action to address previous poor performance.

“New scrutiny arrangements look sound, give an important opportunity to focus on the transformation programme and provide clearer links to the wider Single Outcome Agreement, but are not yet working effectively.

“In most areas, the council has an appropriate level of financial controls.”

She added: “As a council, we believe that the best approach to achieving the financial savings required is to continue with our transformational programme and organisational planning approach.

“We have delivered savings of £40m over the last eight years and our primary objective is to find the additional savings of £23m over the next three years but to still protect services and jobs.

“Our transformational approach, we believe, is the only way to achieve the unprecedented further savings whilst maintaining maximum service delivery to our residents.

“Whilst we acknowledge this approach is not without risk, we intend to fully manage that risk going forward. We welcome Audit Scotland and Accounts Commission input into that process, valuing the role they play in the governance of best value in local government in Scotland.

“We acknowledge there are areas for improvement across our organisation and I look forward to our meeting with the Accounts Commission so that we can further discuss the full content of the Best Value Audit findings – and I think it is important that we look at the wider findings rather than focus only on the more negative highlights.”

“The findings of the Accounts Commission will be considered at a meeting of East Dunbartonshire Council on June 25.

“At that meeting the council will consider its response to the Accounts Commission recommendations and any actions it may implement following the Best Value Report.”