We’re reminded daily of the pressures and spending constraints facing local councils – increasing demand for services, a real-terms reduction in funding, combined with high inflation and rising interest rates.
Faced with these pressures it is essential that councils secure best value in procurement and demonstrating they are indeed securing and delivering best value. This is where the Accounts Commission comes in.
The aim of the Accounts Commission is to drive forward the accountability and transparency councils must have to their communities, as well as helping councils deliver change that improves people’s lives. Audit has a crucial role in holding local government to account on behalf of the people who use and rely on their services. In the future a key element of the Commission’ s work will be assessing more frequently how far individual councils are achieving best value in practice.
Every day we see a crisis of inequalities across our communities, with those already most disadvantaged becoming even more so. Councils continue to be at the forefront of supporting people, helping mitigate the impacts of these harms alongside the wide range of support offered by the third sector.
Our work in public audit, including Best Value, will continue to focus on what councils are doing to support those most at risk of the greatest inequalities, to reduce the gulf in experience and outcomes across social care, education and opportunity. We will continue to look too at the contribution councils are making in helping Scotland recover from the pandemic both economically and in terms of social justice.
In all our recent Best Value reports on individual councils we’ve been clear about the serious financial situation councils are facing, and about the need for councils to plan ahead and engage the public and their partners in the third sector to reshape services to cut costs while maintaining quality.
This is urgent and critical.
In this context, Best Value matters more than ever.
Best Value is about more than good governance and managing resources effectively. It is also about a focus on improvement, on change, on delivering services that improve the lives of local people.
Since 2017 we’ve delivered Best Value reports on all 32 councils, as well as two follow-up reports. This reporting has been robust, impactful and has added value to individual councils and the wider local government sector. We know too from feedback from councils that Best Value work does provide them with insight and ideas. Delivering on this body of work has been the result of the hard work of audit teams, but also the cooperation and assistance of councillors and council staff.
Now our reporting on Best Value is changing.
Auditors will be reporting annually to the Commission on specific themes. We hope this will facilitate the exchange of ideas and performance data, as well as offering a detailed analysis of a specific aspect of the work of all councils. The first theme will be leadership.
We are clear that leadership is at the centre of the difficult decisions councils need to make on future priorities and how services will be delivered. That’s why leadership – from both councillors and senior officers - will be the initial focus of our thematic audit work across all councils. Without strong leadership, councils will struggle.
Another change, from October 2023, will see short reports (Section 102 reports), presented to the Accounts Commission by the Controller of Audit. There will be one s102 for each council over a four-year period. This commitment maintains a regular and consistent focus on the performance of all of Scotland’s 32 councils. It is an important principle for the Commission.
Over the coming months a priority for all Accounts Commission members will be engaging with and listening much more to communities. Doing so will help ensure we’re focusing on the issues that matter most and help us get our messages out to local communities. This means delivering audit that’s increasing relevant to communities, alongside a greater understanding of the impact of audit on their lives.
Dr William Moyes, Chair of the Accounts Commission