Council ‘moving on’ after auditors’ criticism

Argyll and Bute Council says a shake-up of its committee structure will help it respond to a scathing report by Audit Scotland.

The council last week agreed an improvement plan which will be submitted to the Accounts Commission.

Three new committees will be created – one for policy and resources, covering HR, policy development, strategic projects and finance; a community services committee, overseeing culture, education, social work, housing and health and an environment, development and infrastructure committee which will be responsible for amenity services, roads, piers and harbours.

But after the meeting in Lochgilphead the council’s SNP former leader said the changes were unnecessary and expensive ‘flummery’.

The council says its new committee framework will allow members to dedicate time to, and develop expertise in, specific service areas.

The role of area committees has been extended to give them more financial decision making power, as well as absorbing the responsibilities of the local CHORD Project Boards – the Helensburgh CHORD board has been beset by problems, including meetings being abandoned because not enough members had turned up, and the chair announcing his resignation, only to reverse that 48 hours later.

The Accounts Commission report of October 2013 highlighted that, while on a day-to-day basis the council continued to effectively deliver public services, there were concerns with its strategic political leadership.

The council says its action plan contains 33 distinct actions addressing four key areas – standards; governance structure and processes; training and development for elected member; and policy development support.

Dick Walsh: 'Moving on'.
Dick Walsh: ‘Moving on’.

Council leader Dick Walsh said: “We have moved on with a new and inclusive committee structure which will provide a strong, stable administration in place, we have established a robust political management structure and a comprehensive action plan which will support further improvements.

‘’Councillors, working together, have used the Accounts Commission’s findings as a catalyst for change.

‘’The actions we are taking will help us drive forward change and secure a prosperous future for Argyll and Bute.’’

Among the Accounts Commission criticisms were the fact that so many matters were being dealt with by the full council, with meetings often lasting all day – an executive committee had been scrapped in 2012 after being linked with the controversial plans to close 25 schools.

After last week’s meeting James Robb, who resigned after a brief period as council leader last year, said: “Stripping away the flummery, most of these measure were already in place.

James Robb" 'Flummery'.
James Robb” ‘Flummery’.

“Divisive and expensive executive committees are a poor substitute for the previous inclusive and accountable democracy.

“The last two council meetings lasted on average four hours. If there was a real demand for more time a few more council meetings could be added and the £250,000 cost of this nonsense avoided.”

No-one seconded Cllr Robb’s amendment on political management arrangements, while Cllrs Mike Breslin and Fred Hall supported his amendment on the political management arrangements.