Highland Council increases pace to build a sustainable future
A national audit report has highlighted the Highland Council’s clear strategic vision and the increased pace of change to ensure long term financial sustainability, accountability and ambition.
A Best Value audit of the Council was carried out during 2019 and examined the period since 2010. Councils have a statutory duty to deliver Best Value by demonstrating continuous improvement, the depth and pace of which is key to the Council’s capacity to meet its priorities.
The audit report highlights the challenging financial environment the Council has operated under for the past decade, but also recognises the clear signs of an increase in the pace of change to deliver Best Value.
The report sets out findings from the audit which focuses on five broad areas including; the council’s vision and priorities, managing performance, planning the use of resources, effectiveness partnership working and continuous improvement.
While reflecting on the Council over the past decade the report has recognised the redesign work introduced in 2017 and the significant Change Programme established, as part of the 2019/20 Budget process. The Change Programme focussed on transforming the Council through; driving efficiencies, improving performance, workforce planning and implementing new approaches to delivering Council services, based on feedback from staff and public engagement.
The report also recognises the importance of a collaborative approach to decision making and engagement with communities, partners and staff. The report highlights and acknowledges that the Council works well with partners and is showing early signs of improved working with the Third Sector.
The report makes seven recommendations reinforcing the Council’s existing plans for transformation and continuous improvement and advises a more systematic approach to continuous improvement and performance management. It also recognises the recent establishment of more robust financial and governance controls to reverse the trend of overspend in some areas and the impact of this on decreasing council reserves.
Leader of the Council Margaret Davidson welcomed the draft report. She said: “The audit report recognises that the Highland Council has a clear strategic vision and has made significant strides forward in a journey of transformational change to becoming an outward looking, high performing and ambitious council.
“We recognise the need for us all, as elected members, to work collaboratively and constructively with officers and communities. Meaningful scrutiny of performance is key and the changes we have put in place in recent months will enable the council to do this more effectively.
“A new leadership team and organisational structure will help to increase senior officer engagement and visibility across the region, driving performance and community empowerment. A period of stability is now essential to deliver the improvements required to sustain and improve services into the future.
“The Council continues to operate in a very challenging environment and we recognise the effort and investment needed to deliver on our Best Value duty and implement the audit recommendations.”
The Council will meet on 5 March to discuss the findings.
Audit Scotland has prepared this report for the Accounts Commission. All Audit Scotland reports published since 2000 are available at www.audit-scotland.gov.uk