However, the report from the Accounts Commission states that they can do more to ensure every pound delivers maximum value for the people they serve.
The organisation calls for more focus on actively applying cost information to plan services, scrutinise performance and demonstrate value for money.
It says cost information is an important tool to look back at how budgets have been spent but it can also be used more by councils to ensure high quality services meet current and future needs. This can sometimes be done simply by asking the right questions of officials and councils sharing best practice with each other.
The report also states that councillors need good cost information to make well informed policy decisions and scrutinise performance, while officers also need it to help them manage services efficiently, assess performance and demonstrate value for money.
John Baillie, chairman of the Accounts Commission, said: “The new councillors have to get up to speed very quickly.
“We hope this report will help them scrutinise policy and get the right information on both quality and cost of services.
“It can be down to simply asking the right questions of officials and sharing information and best practice with other councils.
“This is a big challenge but it can deliver real dividends for councils and their communities.” The report also states better use of cost information is all the more important given the current pressures on public spending.
Being open about costs can also help communities understand the difficult choices councils face and help staff develop more informed policy.
This report is the third in the ‘How Councils Work’ series, which draws on audit work in all councils to highlight concerns, issues and good practice. The first report looked at councillors’ and officers’ roles and working relationships and the second at arm’s-length organisations.