Accounts Commission criticises Argyll and Bute Council

Argyll and Bute Council has been plagued by months of instability and in-fighting - but the authority's new leader, Dick Walsh, has pleaded for councillors to put an end to personal and party-political differences.
Argyll and Bute Council has been plagued by months of instability and in-fighting - but the authority's new leader, Dick Walsh, has pleaded for councillors to put an end to personal and party-political differences.

Scotland’s public spending watchdog is “seriously concerned” about substantial risks to Argyll and Bute Council caused by instability in its political leadership since last year’s elections.

The warning is contained in the Accounts Commission’s findings on a statutory report by the Controller of Audit, published earlier this month.

The Accounts Commission’s findings, which were released on Tuesday, highlight the impact of months of instability at the council since May 2012.

In its findings the commission said: “The council’s ability to set and maintain a clear strategic direction is at risk of being compromised and the commission is concerned that this will, in time, negatively affect the services that the council provides for the people of Argyll and Bute.”

Chair of the Accounts Commission, John Baillie, said: “Argyll and Bute Council now stands a crossroads. There has been instability and lack of consistent political leadership for a long period.

“There is now some evidence that lessons have been learned and measures are being taken to develop new political management arrangements, training and development support for councillors and bringing in external support.

“All of this is encouraging. However, we urge the elected members and the corporate management team to work together to provide stronger and more effective leadership for the council, to ensure urgent progress is made.

“We have asked for a further report on progress made over the next six months.”

The report also says the council’s current political management arrangements are “not fit for purpose” - a view already reached by the council itself - and states that “progress in securing effective scrutiny arrangements has been inadequate”.

The Accounts Commission’s findings will come as no surprise to anyone who read the Controller of Audit’s report earlier this month - least of all the new council leader, Dick Walsh, who has already appealed to councillors to set aside party-political and personal differences in the hope of fixing the problems with the authority.

In his first report as council leader, written before the publication of the Accounts Commission’s report, Cllr Walsh says: “Following your support and my appointment as council leader I am determined to ensure that we adopt a professional and business-like approach to our work, that we are inclusive in going forward, and that the personality issues and behaviours of the recent past are eradicated.

“In the best interests of all the people that we represent as elected members, it is important that we collectively embrace the advice supplied in the Audit Scotland report and commit to working with me and your administration colleagues to ensure that the council goes forward in a way that confirms the existence of a strong, stable and sound council with an effective and efficient political leadership and culture.”

The Accounts Commission’s findings will be officially presented at a full council meeting in Lochgilphead this Thursday, October 31.