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Recognition is given to the excellent work employees undertake with communities, particularly during the pandemic, but external report says leadership needs to do much more to achieve Best Value.

Audit Scotland carried out a remote Best Value audit of Falkirk Council earlier this year.

The aim of the audit is to ensure the Council has good governance and effective management of resources, with a focus on improvement and transformation, to deliver the best possible outcomes for the public.

As part of the audit process, the Accounts Commission will discuss this report on the Council, in public, with the audit team, at its meeting on 9 December.

The report is not complete, and therefore won’t be published, until the Accounts Commission has determined what action it would like to take – this may include publishing its own findings on top of the conclusions made by the audit team.

If the Commission agree to accept the conclusions made by the audit team, the report will be published in January.

Falkirk Council's Best Value report is item 7 on the Accounts Commission meeting agenda. To read the report, visit the Accounts Commission website.

Progress made

The 61-page report recognises the Council was quick to respond to the pandemic, with staff across services working together to deliver essential services, and with communities and partners to support those in need.

It states the Council’s response to COVID-19 not only helped it create a clear vision and set of priorities for its recovery, but also resulted in a "positive shift" in its approach to engaging and working with communities.

It goes on to say the Council performs well in several key services, in particular Education and Housing, and that performance continues to improve in other areas.

It also notes progress has been made in the Council’s use of digital technology, with the report focusing on two Council of the Future (COTF) projects – Analogue to Digital Telecare, undertaken collaboratively with Falkirk Council and Falkirk Health and Social Care Partnership, and Connected Falkirk.

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, Leader of Falkirk Council said:

“The report makes very clear our employees have worked extremely hard – and continue to do so – in very difficult and challenging circumstances. We welcome the recognition given to our response to the pandemic and the progress made in several areas.”

What it means

Improvements needed

However, the report also sets out significant challenges and states the Council “urgently needs to deliver improvements” and must do more to progress key aspects of Best Value, including:

  • improving financial sustainability
  • performance management and reporting
  • community empowerment
  • equalities

If the Council is to close its budget gap and deliver on its priorities, the report states Elected Members will “need to make difficult decisions quickly about the future shape of services” and that “better collective leadership” is needed to deliver necessary change.

The report highlights COTF has not delivered sufficient savings nor met its aims but acknowledges changes have been made to strengthen the programme through the Powering Our Priorities initiative.

It also states that proper governance structures are in place however, “significant delays” in taking some key decisions is “impacting on the council’s pace of change”.

The report provides two pages of recommendations that the Council must take forward if it is to achieve Best Value. To read the recommendations, visit the Accounts Commission website.

Cllr Meiklejohn added:

“As a Council, we always strive to deliver the best for the people of the Falkirk area but know more work needs to be done to do this. To help us deliver the change needed, an action plan is being developed around the report’s recommendations. The plan will not only build on our strengths and the work already underway to address our shortcomings, but also help us make necessary improvements to how we work and our services to deliver Best Value for the people of Falkirk.”

If the Commission agree to accept the conclusions made by the audit team, Falkirk Council’s complete Best Value Assurance Report will be published in January.

The Council’s action plan will go before Council in the New Year.

The Accounts Commission

Visit Audit Scotland's website for more information on Best Value and the Accounts Commission.