Early days

Silk material

A new body to represent councils, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), was also set up in 1975 from four previous organisations.

Another  challenge for the Commission was to allay fears of council leaders, themselves having get to grips with new structures, and also wary of this new audit organisation to keep tabs on them.  Some wanted the new watchdog to be kept firmly in its kennel under a tight muzzle and they’d hold the key.

Tom Fraser’s political connections were very helpful in visits he and Mr Dargie made around the country.

Mr Dargie recalled in 2014:

Tom Fraser was a great charmer – a very nice man. He’d been a miner before he took up politics. There was nothing objectionable about Tom at all. I had great admiration for him.

There is no doubt that audit generally had been very superficial beforehand.

The key thing for me was my independence as Controller of Audit but there was one clause in the 1973 act which said I would immune from court action unless they could prove the opinions I made reports were not my own opinions.

The Commission survived its early trials. The new system attracted outside interest not only from the district audit service in England but also among visitors from Australia and Canada keen to learn how it was managing.

More auditors were hired and offices set up across the country and larger private firms developed resources and expertise to carry out the required audits which smaller firms could not do.

Core business remained in annual financial audits – looking in detail at every council’s books. But there was a growing trend towards developing performance audits of how they were doing in specific areas.  The idea of securing best value in their work was there from the start.

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Of interest...

Surprisingly, the minutes of the first Commission meeting showed some scepticism about best value:

Doubt was expressed about the advisability of using audit as a means of monitoring the activities of local authorities in getting the best value for money spent.