Council ‘inadequate and unstable’, says report

Inadequate leadership and instability are putting key services from Argyll and Bute Council at risk, a damning report has said.

Today’s statement from the  Accounts Commission follows an Audit Scotland report published earlier this month.

The commission is ‘seriously concerned’ about ‘substantial risks’ caused by instability in political leadership since last year’s elections.

It said the quality of leadership of the council has been inadequate, current political management arrangements are not fit for purpose and progress in securing effective scrutiny has also been inadequate.

In its findings published today the commission said: “The council’s ability to set and maintain a clear strategic direction is at risk of being compromised and the commission is concerned that this will, in time, negatively affect the services that the council provides for the people of Argyll and Bute.”

The findings are in response to a report from the Controller of Audit which outlined a culture of instability and mistrust at the council.

Chair of the Accounts Commission, John Baillie, said: “Argyll and Bute Council now stands a crossroads. There has been instability and lack of consistent political leadership for a long period.

“There is now some evidence that lessons have been learned and measures are being taken to develop new political management arrangements, training and development support for councillors and bringing in external support.

“All of this is encouraging. However, we urge the elected members and the corporate management team to work together to provide stronger and more effective leadership for the council, to ensure urgent progress is made. We have asked for a further report on progress made over the next six months”

The commission said it was encouraged that the council had recognised the need for change and was taking steps to make this happen.

This had included bringing in external experts from the Improvement Service and COSLA for help and advice.

Dick Walsh, who after months of sometimes bitter negotiations recently became leader of the council for the third time, stressed that local services and the day to day business of the council had continued during the period of political uncertainty.

He said: “The recent Audit Scotland report and the Accounts Commission’s findings have been a wake-up call for all of us.

“It is absolutely essential that we have sound, stable political leadership. We take very seriously the comments made by the commission and we are very aware of what needs to be done.  The people of Argyll and Bute can be assured that we are getting on with the job.

“It is important to remember that despite some months of political uncertainty, the day to day business of the council has continued.

“Bins are being emptied, roads are being maintained and repaired, meals are being provided, children are being taught. The circumstances of the past months have not impacted on services for our people and we are utterly determined to ensure this continues.”

Commenting on the report, Dumbarton constituency MSP Jackie Baillie MSP said: “Another week, another damning report which reveals the damage caused by the SNP’s petty squabbling in Argyll and Bute Council.

“The Accounts Commission has pulled no punches in describing the very real risk to public services in Argyll and Bute caused by the lack of political stability over the past year. SNP councillors should have focused on delivering strong and stable leadership instead of spending their time fighting like ferrets in a sack.

“The SNP must now apologise to the people of Argyll and Bute for creating a culture of mistrust and political scheming at the council.”

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