‘Much more work’ needed at Argyll and Bute Council, says report

Argyll and Bute Council's headquarters at Kilmory Castle in Lochgilphead.
Argyll and Bute Council's headquarters at Kilmory Castle in Lochgilphead.

Argyll and Bute Council has responded constructively to a critical report but much more work is required to secure the improvements needed at the local authority, says the Accounts Commission.

A follow-up report published on Thursday charts what has been done since October 2013, when the Commission voiced serious concerns about risks to the council from political instability, inadequate leadership and scrutiny.

Though the Commission has noted the initial steps taken to address these concerns, it has urged the council to continue making progress on an action plan agreed by the local authority earlier this year. The Commission wants to be assured that scrutiny, working relationships, and political management have been strengthened as improvement work continues, and has requested a further review by Audit Scotland by the end of next year.

Whilst the leadership of the council is now more stable, the situation remains fragile. A newly introduced structure for the political management of the council provides a foundation for improved governance. Shared understanding of these arrangements and effective communication are required to ensure they fulfil their potential.

Scrutiny also needs to improve, and councillors must be willing to engage with that process.

The follow-up report can be read in full by clicking here, while the original report from last October can be read here.

Accounts Commission chair Douglas Sinclair said: “We welcome the steps the council has taken so far, but there is a very long way to go before necessary changes are embedded and the serious problems highlighted last year are fully addressed.

“Difficult decisions lie ahead, particularly with regards to reducing finances, which will undoubtedly test the improvements made by the council. The council must continue to work together - elected members and officers - to build upon the progress made to date.”

“The Commission will continue to monitor developments at Argyll and Bute and has requested a further update on progress from Audit Scotland by the end of 2015.”

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell said: “This report is disappointing and worrying for local people who depend on the council for vital local services. It must also be a big disappointment to the council leader Dick Walsh and the deputy leader Ellen Morton, as well as to the chief executive Sally Loudon and her senior management team.

“They made much last year of their determination to bring stability and improvement to the council and they had the backing of the entire area.

“I welcomed their commitment to change but they have not yet succeeded in bringing about that change as this independent report now makes crystal clear.