'Serious concerns' about South Ayrshire Council
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The Accounts Commission says it has "serious concerns" about South Ayrshire Council’s lack of progress in addressing long-term weaknesses.
Its findings are in response to a report from the Controller of Audit which found significant failings in strategic direction, leadership, performance management and scrutiny at the council, including senior managers allegedly not attending key meetings.
Audit Scotland provides services to the Accounts Commission for Scotland and carries out work as directed by the Accounts Commission.
The commission says the council has not fulfilled agreed recommendations from previous reports in 2009 and 2010. The commission noted the council’s inability over a number of years to fulfil and sustain its statutory "Best Value" responsibilities for continuous improvement in these areas.
The council has also lacked a corporate plan for the last 18 months, the commission says. This is only likely to be resolved with a new plan to be agreed next month.
"Without a plan, there is no clear statement of the council’s priorities for services and improvement," the commission said. "Nor is there clear information about how it will address significant national issues, such as health and social care integration, in the context of other priorities and challenges.”
The audit report said that overall scrutiny at South Ayrshire was ineffective. Scrutiny panel meetings were often cancelled due to lack of business. A performance management system had been introduced but lacked consistent implementation across the council. Senior managers frequently did not attend meetings of the corporate management team or did not engage effectively with its procedures.
There were recent signs that the council was aware of the issues and was beginning to address them. The commission said that, despite these signs, improvement should have been established much earlier.
Although the commission recognised that there were currently "no significant concerns about the performance of council services", commission chair Douglas Sinclair said: “We require progress to be made as a matter of urgency. Otherwise, the weaknesses identified by the targeted audit of "Best Value" will increasingly have a negative impact on the services that the council provides for people and communities in South Ayrshire and on the public’s confidence in the council."
The Commission has ordered a follow-up report by December this year to measure progress against its recommendations.