Council in-fighting ‘could threaten services in Argyll and Bute’

Audit Scotland says that months of instability at Argyll and Bute Council could begin to have an impact on the delivery of services.
Audit Scotland says that months of instability at Argyll and Bute Council could begin to have an impact on the delivery of services.

Front-line services delivered by Argyll and Bute Council may suffer if the political instability which has plagued the authority is not addressed quickly.

That’s the conclusion of an Audit Scotland report into the running of the authority which cricitises the “lack of consistent political leadership” since the local council elections of May 2012.

The report identifies a range of factors which have contributed to increased tensions within the council chamber at Kilmory over the last few years - and in particular since last year’s elections - and says that the current situation is “not sustainable” and that councillors and senior officers must “work together to ensure that the council can deliver for the people of Argyll and Bute”.

Problems identified by the report include:

* Tension between councillors’ roles as local representatives on the one hand and strategic leaders on the other;

* Difficult decisions on emotive issues have proven divisive;

* Councillors’ behaviour outside the chamber is less positive than in public meetings, which “reinforces a sense of mistrust amongst them;

* Political management arrangements have contributed to, rather than helped, differences with the political culture, and led to a workload for full council meetings which is not sustainable;

* Strategic scrutiny is not effective and councillors do not have a common understanding of their scrutiny role;

* Working relationships between some councillors and officers are difficult at times, and the capacity of senior managers is strained by this;

* The council’s current working arrangements are beginning to inhibit progress with strategic planning and there is a risk that services may suffer if those difficulties are not addressed.

The report identifies the controversial review of the council’s school estate in 2010 and 2011 as one of the issues which marked a shift in the council’s culture, and damaged the trust between councillors and between councillors and officers.

It concludes: “There is a significant challenge ahead for the councillors and officers of Argyll and Bute Council to both collectively and individually change the culture and address the difficulties.

“The good level of recognition of the issues and the early signs of engagement with external support provide a good foundation.

“There is a clear desire across councillors and officers to improve the outcomes for the communities of Argyll and Bute. To achieve this will require collective working and leadership.”