A lack of strategic leadership and a culture of mistrust at Argyll and Bute Council have been identified in a report for the Accounts Commission.
Audit Scotland found several areas of concern at the authority, which has seen frequent changes of leadership and political control both before and after the 2012 elections.
Plans to close 26 primary schools, the sale of Toward Castle and Ardentinny outdoor education centres and the row over plans to close Struan Lodge old people’s home in Dunoon have all been highlighted as contributing to wider problems.
The council is led by a coalition of the Argyll and Bute for Change Alliance and the Argyll, Lomond and the Isles Group.
The SNP, which had led the council after the May 2012 elections, is now in opposition again
The administration has been subject to frequent changes since 2011, which have resulted in a “lack of collective strategic leadership by councillors”, Audit Scotland said.
“The political groupings have been finely balanced, meaning small groups and individuals are in a position to influence political business by holding the balance of power,” it said.
“This, and then subsequent changes in alliances, is exacerbating distrust and strains on working relationships.
“Councillors also highlighted their concern that this could mean that to gain support, specific local issues may gain a disproportionate affect on strategic priorities.”
Working relationships between councillors and between a few councillors and officers are ‘strained’, while tensions between newer and established members are also evident.
The report says frontline services are not yet affected by the problems, but they are beginning to inhibit progress with strategic planning and there is a risk that services may suffer in the future.
Full council meetings can last up to eight hours and yet are still unable to look at all of the items due to be considered. The meetings are “a challenging environment” for members, Audit Scotland said.
Dick Walsh, who took over leadership of the council last month, said: “Obviously the Audit Scotland report makes for challenging reading. However, I am confident that Argyll and Bute Council can rise admirably to those challenges.
“There is now a sound, strong and stable administration in place. Everyone is very aware that there is work to be done. We are here to serve the people of Argyll and Bute, and that is our top priority.
“We can ensure that it remains our key focus by making sure that we take on board what is said in the report, and by working effectively in a positive way with council staff who provide essential services in our area.
“We will soon have a new team of councillors at the helm and improved political management arrangements. I know that there is a real will across the chamber and among fellow councillors to roll up our sleeves and get on with the job at hand.
“We are all well aware of the necessity of working together so that people in Argyll and Bute can have confidence in what we do.”
The council’s chief executive, Sally Loudon added: “Our staff have continued to deliver quality, effective and efficient services to people across Argyll and Bute throughout the whole process, and I know that they are committed to doing so in the future.
“Everyone – elected members and officers – will be working hard together over the coming months so that Argyll and Bute Council continues to be an effective and improving organisation.”
The report will be considered at an Accounts Commission meeting this Thursday (October 17); a PDF of the document is available here: AC.2013.9.6b_AandB