Page last updated at 00:22 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Council's finances 'concerning'

West Dunbartonshire Council
West Dunbartonshire has defended its record on budget management

The ability of West Dunbartonshire Council to effectively manage its own finances has been questioned by a public accounts watchdog.

The Accounts Commission said recent audits of the council had shown ongoing issues with its leadership.

Its report also said it "cannot be confident" about the council's ability to address its financial problems.

The council said it had made progress on improvements and its "budget gap" was one of the lowest in Scotland.

The Accounts Commission first identified problems with leadership and decision-making at West Dunbartonshire Council in a report in 2006.

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

The council has made limited progress on ensuring appropriate strategic leadership
John Baillie
Accounts Commission

Although subsequent reports have highlighted areas of improvement, the latest concludes that there has been "insufficient progress on many of the areas identified in 2006 as priorities for immediate improvement, and its financial situation is also concerning".

Commission chair John Baillie said: "We welcome the fact that the council now has an agreed improvement plan and the benefit of formal external peer support for both councillors and senior officers.

"However, there has been insufficient progress against many of the areas identified in the original 'best value' audit as priorities for immediate improvement, such as strategic leadership and councillor and officer relations.

'Significant pressures'

"A number of the issues raised in this report have been matters of concern for some time and councillors could be more engaged with the improvement agenda."

The report states that the council now faces significant pressures in achieving "operational sustainability and financial stability" and has a "relatively low level of reserves".

Mr Baillie added: "West Dunbartonshire Council's financial position is a matter of concern in itself, but is even more troubling as the council has made limited progress on ensuring appropriate strategic leadership and effective relationships between councillors and senior officers.

"We cannot be confident of the council's ability to make difficult decisions that address its financial difficulties."

It would be totally unfair to represent West Dunbartonshire as a failing council
Pat Watters

A spokeswoman for West Dunbartonshire Council aid the authority was "carefully considering" the findings.

"The report is very disappointing and highlights a number of areas that will require urgent attention," she said.

"Whilst we fully accept that significant changes are still required, council believes that the report does not reflect the positive and ongoing improvements to frontline service provision that other audit bodies have recognized."

The spokeswoman said the issues raised about the financial situation were "particularly disappointing" as the council had a track record for delivering balanced budgets.

Pat Watters, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said it would be "totally unfair to represent West Dunbartonshire as a failing council.

"One only needs to look at their very positive recent inspection reports around their education, social work and social care and housing services to see that this is a council that offers high quality services to the public," he added.

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