Best Value matters more than ever. It provides independent assurance on the financial sustainability of councils and helps drive forward improvement in council services and functions. This helps improve the services we all use.
All members of the Accounts Commission share a determination to report on how public money is being spent. By sharing best practice, we support councils to improve and deliver on change. This is at the heart of Best Value – it’s why our audit of Best Value makes a real difference. It also provides assurance on Scottish council finances. This is more important than ever, given the ongoing financial challenges impacting councils in Scotland, and the high-profile situation facing councils in England.
It is a statutory requirement for local authorities in Scotland to deliver Best Value across all their activities. And it’s the responsibility of the Accounts Commission to scrutinise this and report on whether councils are delivering on this duty.
So I’m pleased that just before I leave the Accounts Commission, our Best Value in Scotland report, highlights the impact and value of 20 years of reporting on Best Value audit work. Since 2004, we’ve reported in public on what’s worked well, sharing best practice, and shone a spotlight on what needs to improve across Scotland’s councils.
Twenty years of auditing Best Value and next steps for Best Value reporting in Scottish councils.
Councils have made significant progress with their duty of delivering Best Value over some very difficult times. We recognise the hard work needed to deliver change while also delivering services. But there’s more to be done as councils adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
The duty of Best Value was introduced at a time of significant change for councils, and councils responded well. Best Value auditing has evolved since then, as the Accounts Commission responded to a changing environment. Our future reporting will ensure it reflects the key risks and context that Scottish councils work within.
Having been a member of the Commission for eight years, what really matters for me is being able to see a council change, acting on our findings and using it as a positive platform to drive forward improvement. This includes areas of particular focus for the Accounts Commission, such as tackling inequalities and financial planning.
Our new approach, which starts in November 2023, will fully integrate Best Value into annual financial audit work, increasing impact and efficiency, as well as reducing the scrutiny burden on councils.
To continue to provide sustainable local services, councils must rethink and change how they operate, especially how they collaborate with partners and communities. In real terms councils have less money, while service demand and cost pressures continue, creating a real risk that delivering current services will become unsustainable.
New thinking and action, such as sharing services and expertise, having open conversations with communities about spending priorities, together with a greater focus on prevention, will underpin sustainability in these challenging times.
This is the core of Best Value, and it matters more than ever.
Geraldine Wooley, Member of the Accounts Commission