Argyll and Bute Council says it is "is making significant progress in its improvement agenda, according to independent auditors".
Audit Scotland and Grant Thornton will present details of its newly-published report at the Executive meeting on Thursday, June 2.
The report updates members on the progress of the council’s Assurance and Improvement Plan (AIP), which was first published in July 2010.
That document set out the planned scrutiny activity for the council from April 2010 to March 2013, based on a shared risk assessment undertaken by a Local Area Network (LAN) of representatives of all the main local government audit and inspection agencies.
The LAN met late last year to update the AIP for 2011-14. The update drew on evidence from a number of sources including Grant Thornton’s annual audit report, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIE), the Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA), the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) and the Care Commission.
The resulting report states that Argyll and Bute Council has ‘a number of areas of improving performance’.
“The key building blocks for improvement are now in place, such as a new management structure, planning and performance management framework, and the transformation programme, which includes a programme of service reviews and the examination of options for shared services,” it adds.
“The management restructure now in place is providing strong leadership. The council’s revised vision provides a clarity of direction.”
The report confirms that the council has positively addressed areas highlighted in the 2010/11 risk assessment as either an ‘area of uncertainty’ or a ‘significant risk’, and continues to work towards further improvements.
It also highlights seven areas of uncertainty including Social Change (ensuring services are directed to the most vulnerable), Support of adults at home rather than in residential settings, Management of the School Estate, Housing, Services for homeless people, Economy (Transport) and Sustainability. There is one significant risk, which relates to the road network and the report recognises the additional money factored into the roads budget for the next three years.
Chief executive Sally Loudon welcomed the report, saying: “It is very gratifying to learn that the work everyone is putting in to improving the organisation is acknowledged and supported by these independent bodies.
“We will of course continue to strive for further improvements. We cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal, particularly given the very challenging financial climate for local government across Scotland in the foreseeable future.
“We do not underestimate the scale of those challenges, and are fully committed to meeting them by being more efficient, more focussed and more flexible in the years ahead. That’s what we are all working towards.”
Among the areas of major improvement highlighted are Social Change (Education/Accommodation and care leavers), which went from a ‘significant risk’ to ‘no significant risk’, and Environment (Sustainable Growth), Organisational Development (Transformation and Modernisation), Leadership and Culture, Competitiveness, Managing People and Equalities, which all went from ‘area of uncertainty’ to ‘no significant risk’.
In terms of finance, the report states that Argyll and Bute Council ‘has a record of good financial management, informed during the year by budget consultation with the public’ and acknowledges that the authority has clear plans in place to achieve the required level of savings, although this remains a ‘significant challenge’ to deliver.
It also makes reference to the ongoing review of the school estate. Eleven school amalgamation proposals are currently out for statutory public consultation.
“In recent years the external auditors have drawn the council’s attention to the relatively poor occupancy rates in the council’s schools and the significant backlog of maintenance in the schools estate,” it states.
“The council has responded with an undertaking to review its school estate and develop a strategic plan for addressing areas of concern. Grant Thornton will monitor the council’s progress in implementing this key policy commitment.”
The report highlights several areas of core national priorities, and comments on how Argyll and Bute is measuring up against them.
Among those comments are; ‘most early years provision and primary schools were good or better, with general improvement evident’, ‘there are improved outcomes for those using social work services, particularly in terms of care planning and meeting their needs’, ‘ the Adult Support and Protection Committee is now well established and is an example of good partnership working’ and ‘the council continues to be proactive in responding to the current challenging financial environment and is well placed to do so’.
It also refers to the council’s service review programme, and finds that ‘the process has been improved to ensure the findings are robust and lead to quantifiable savings. This is a key step to respond to the financial position and look for radical alternative service delivery models through the council’s new service review guidance. The council’s budget proposals outline plans to achieve these savings.’
Council Leader Dick Walsh said the document provided clear evidence that the authority’s improvement plan is having a significant effect.
“It is obviously satisfying that these independent bodies have had so many positive things to say about the changes we have made and will continue to make,” Councillor Walsh added.
“We want to see improvements in service delivery and service user satisfaction across Argyll and Bute, and the comments in this report suggest we are progressing well towards that target.
“I am pleased that national agencies such as those which have fed into this report believe that the measures we have taken so far have been effective. I look forward to continuing to build onto the strong foundations already laid down.”