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Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2006, 14:27 GMT
Action threatened against council
West Dunbartonshire Council logo
The council said the commission had recognised its strengths
The Scottish Executive has warned it is prepared to take action against a local authority which has come under heavy criticism from watchdogs.

Decision-making and leadership at West Dunbartonshire Council were found wanting by the Accounts Commission.

A public hearing into the running of the local authority also raised concerns about a "culture of bullying".

But the council criticised the watchdog for its "negative" focus and insisted it was performing well in many areas.

The executive's warning comes five days after council leader Andy White announced his resignation after nine years in the job.

Local Government Minister Tom McCabe voiced concerns about the findings, which he described as "not good enough".

Tom McCabe MSP
Mr McCabe said he would consider what action could be taken

"I expect the council to accept these findings in full and put in place a recovery process without delay," he said.

"If they do not, I will have to consider what further action may be necessary."

An executive spokeswoman told the BBC Scotland news website that a written warning could be issued and, if the situation did not improve, the council could be taken under ministerial control.

However, she added that the council would have more than three months to implement a "comprehensive improvement plan", during which the executive said it would monitor the situation.

The hearing, which took place earlier this year, highlighted "significant deficiencies" in corporate decision-making at the council, which was not as "open and transparent" as it should have been.

We are concerned by the assertion that individuals were afraid to give evidence in public for fear of reprisals
Accounts Commission

The commission also heard allegations of bullying and harassment from councillors and trade union representatives.

It stated: "We are concerned by the assertion that individuals were afraid to give evidence in public for fear of reprisals.

"This issue of a culture of bullying and harassment, whether real or perceived, must be addressed immediately."

The authority was not in a position to deliver best value for residents and must accept outside help to push through improvements, according to the commission.

Alastair MacNish, chair of the commission in Scotland, said there were "serious problems" at the council.

"People in West Dunbartonshire deserve better and need to know that these problems are being addressed," he said.

Cllr Andy White
Cllr Andy White is set to resign as leader at a meeting next week

However, a council spokesperson said: "We believe that we made a well-evidenced case to the Accounts Commission and are very disappointed that - while they recognise some of the council's strengths - their findings focus more on the negative parts of the Audit Scotland report."

The council said education and social work were performing well, despite deprivation in the area, and claimed the commission had also accepted there was effective working with community partners.

The spokesman added: "The findings have chosen to focus negatively on issues of decision-making, leadership, scrutiny, relationships and morale.

"We have recognised that, like all councils, we are not perfect, but we are far from being the worst performing council in Scotland."

The unprecedented step of holding the hearing took place after a critical Audit Scotland report on behalf of the commission.


SEE ALSO
'Abused' council leader to resign
12 Dec 06 |  Glasgow and West

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