Major challenges ahead for councillors elected in May – Accounts Commission

Written by Kate Shannon on 7 March 2017 in News

The local government spending watchdog published its 2017 local government overview report today

Poverty: Picture credit - Holyrood

New councillors elected in May face major challenges and will need to focus on improving long-term planning, according to Scotland’s local government spending watchdog.

In its 2017 overview report published today, the Accounts Commission outlined the long-term decline in Scottish Government real terms funding which makes up around 60 per cent of council income.

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


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However, the report said councils overall have maintained or improved their performance in the face of these challenges.

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.”

The commission found that satisfaction is declining and complaints against councils are increasing. Looking ahead, they need to better involve their communities in service design and deliver.

The report also said there are wide variations between councils and while some have “grasped the nettle” in finding new ways to provide services more efficiently, others have been slower off the mark.

It found some have made savings by cutting jobs but half still do not have organisation-wide workforce plans.

The Accounts Commission also said local authorities must learn more from each other and collaborate better to improve services and reduce costs.

It continued by saying councillors elected in May must have the necessary training and tools to do an increasingly complex job determining local priorities, overseeing delivery of essential services and working with other public bodies to improve outcomes for communities and individuals.

Scottish Conservative local government spokesman Graham Simpson said: “We’ve known for some time that councils across Scotland face a very challenging financial future.

“This report exposes just how great some of those challenges are, and how little the SNP is doing to mitigate them.

“In his budget, Derek Mackay will cut local authority budgets to the bone, something the nationalists have been doing steadily since 2010.

“All the while, the population is increasing and ageing, and the SNP is forcing ludicrous schemes such as named person on these organisations which will only make matters worse.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley said it was a "damning report" that laid bare the scale of SNP cuts to local government.

“The human cost of SNP austerity is 15,100 full-time jobs that have been lost since 2010, as councils struggle to make savings," he said.

“That is a tragedy – and the truth is services will only decline further as councils are given less and less support by the SNP.

“There is a better way. Scottish Labour would ask the richest in society to pay more tax to help close the attainment gap and stop the cuts to valued local services.”

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