East Dunbartonshire Council needs to “significantly up its game” according to a report published today by the local authority watchdog.
The Accounts Commission says that it is “concerned” about East Dunbartonshire Council, accepting that it has “made some improvements but needs to do a lot more to meet the challenges it faces”.
The local authority watchdog says it remains concerned that significant issues identified in two previous reports had not been adequately addressed.
East Dunbartonshire has agreed a transformation programme outlining projects to deliver savings and changes in the way it provides services.
But the Commission finds much of the programme remains behind schedule and this has to be rectified if the council is to achieve £27.6 million in savings over the next three years.
The report says improvements have been made in financial management but there are concerns about the range of skills and experience in the financial team to sustain them.
East Dunbartonshire is now looking at sharing services with neighbouring councils but it is not yet clear what savings will result.
In its findings, the Commission says it remains “concerned” that the council does not demonstrate adequate capability to deliver its transformation programme and meet the budget shortfall.
It had failed to meet targets and there is a lack of clarity about savings to be achieved.
Accounts Commission chair Douglas Sinclair said: “All councils face future funding gaps and are having to make radical changes in how services are provided.
“East Dunbartonshire needs to significantly up its game to deliver on its ambitions.”
But council leader Rhondda Geekie was quick to defend the record of the council.
She said: “We have worked closely with the Commission and Audit Scotland throughout all of our Best Value Audit reviews and will continue to do so. But I am disappointed that, despite the Commission’s findings identifying the improvements we have demonstrated since our last Best Value Audit, their media emphasis is on “concern” and “capability”.
“East Dunbartonshire Council will consider this Best Value Report in the New Year, but in advance of that, I would highlight that the Report concludes:
The Council has worked to respond to the concerns expressed by the Commission in their previous findings in June 2015.
The Accounts Commission recognises that we are demonstrating better prioritisation of our improvement projects and stronger aspects of workforce planning.
The Accounts Commission acknowledges that Scrutiny of performance by elected members, a previous concern, is improving.”
The council Leader continued: “While the Commission acknowledges this, it goes on to challenge our capacity to deliver our ambitious transformation programme.
However, in East Dunbartonshire we have successfully delivered savings of £40 million in the eight years to 2015/16, delivering balanced budgets every year. And whilst we face a further deficit for this current year and the next two years, totalling £27 million over the three years, I make no apologies for our ambitious transformation programme. Local government has faced unprecedented and relentless budget cuts in recent years and no one can deny the challenging financial environment we all face.
“Our Transformation Programme was agreed by this Council to ensure that we identified and delivered every possible saving. Our approach has been to continuously review our organisational structure and transform how our services are delivered, before we consider cutting services. We have said from the outset that maintaining services, particularly to the most vulnerable in our communities, is our absolute priority.
“Of course our ambition is not without risk, but as we have previously advised the Accounts Commission, we have every intention of managing that risk.
“Whilst cutting services might be a more obvious and immediate way to demonstrate the delivery of savings, we firmly believe there is an alternative.
Our ambitious transformational approach is the only way to achieve the unprecedented further savings we face whilst maintaining maximum service delivery to our residents.
“We acknowledge that there are areas for further improvement across our organisation and whilst I look forward to our meeting with the Accounts Commission to discuss the Best Value Audit findings, I think it is important that we consider the wider findings and not focus only on the more negative highlights.”