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23 January 2020Report of Performance of the Highland Council

Periodically the Accounts Commission, acting for the Scottish Government assess the performance of the Highland Council. Their latest report is now available HERE.

The summary findings of the report are:

1 The Commission accepts the Controller of Audit’s report on Best Value
in Highland Council. We endorse the recommendations set out by the
Controller of Audit in his report and expect the council to act upon
them and demonstrate improvement in the next 12 months.
2 We are disappointed with the progress made by the council since our
previous Best Value audit in 2010.
3 We are concerned in particular that the council is not demonstrating
that it is financially sustainable. In recent years the council has a poor
record of meeting budget gaps, and thus it is critical that it meets
a forecast budget gap of up to £77.3 million in the two years from
2020/21. Recent improvements in financial governance and controls
will be vital in delivering this requirement.
4 We note with concern the Controller’s conclusion that the council is not
demonstrating all aspects of Best Value, but we acknowledge that there
has been an increase in the pace of the change required to do this. We
underline that the council needs to get better at its self-evaluation to
be clearer about how it can improve. It is disappointing for example
to note poor service performance, not least in the priority area of
education.
5 Difficult decisions lie ahead for the council, requiring effective
leadership. We therefore urge elected members to continue to work
constructively together with officers and communities. Recent changes
to decision-making and scrutiny structures will be integral to this, as
will members making use of better quality performance information to
fulfil their responsibilities.
6 We note recent and ongoing changes to senior officer team and
structure and we encourage the collaborative leadership required with
members to maintain an increasing pace of change. The ownership
and involvement of all staff in continuous improvement is another vital
element in moving forward.
7 The Commission acknowledges the significant challenges of the
geography and diversity of the Highlands. Given this context, we urge
better progress by the council to work with its partners in delivering
their community empowerment and locality planning obligations.
8 The nature of the Controller’s recommendations are significant and it
is vital that the council takes these forward to deliver Best Value. The
Commission will therefore maintain a close interest in how the council
moves forward. We ask the Controller of Audit to monitor this through
the annual audit and keep the Commission informed accordingly.

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