South Ayrshire Council’s slow transformation ‘frustrating’, auditors say

By William Eichler | 28 October 2021

South Ayrshire Council’s services perform well but the council has been slow at making necessary changes to the way it delivers these services, auditors say.

A report by Audit Scotland has praised the local authority for responding effectively to COVID-19. It concluded that the council had worked well with partners to provide support to vulnerable individuals and communities while continuing to deliver other vital services.

Audit Scotland also found that many of the local authority’s services were performing well. According to the auditor’s report, South Ayrshire residents benefit in particular from the good relationships between local communities and partner organisations and between councillors and council officers.

Despite performing well in some areas, the report also found that the council has been ‘slow and inconsistent’ in making necessary changes to how it delivers services.

Audit Scotland acknowledged that South Ayrshire Council has effective financial management arrangements in place and effective short-term financial planning. The auditors also noted the council has a history of delivering services within budget.

However, the local authority currently faces an estimated budget gap of between £56m and £69m between 2022/23 and 2029/30, and no medium-term financial plan.

They warned that the council needed a medium-term financial plan that was closely linked and integrated with other critical strategies, including a robust workforce plan, service transformation plans, and plans to improve local people’s lives.

‘Overall, services in South Ayrshire Council are currently performing well. But it is frustrating that the momentum on change and transformation that we saw in 2016 has not been maintained,’ said Tim McKay, interim deputy chair of the Accounts Commission.

‘Without robust longer term financial planning, linked to a strategic approach to managing both its workforce and changing the way services are delivered, the council will not be able to manage budget reductions alongside increased service demand. A much greater pace of change, drive and momentum is needed to deliver on this.’

Responding to the report, a South Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: ‘The report recognises that we responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic, while continuing to deliver vital services. The report also highlights that we have a clear vision, which reflects the needs of our communities.

‘While the Controller of Audit notes some of the high quality services that we deliver, there are also recommendations for improvement and plans are in place to address these.’

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