Aberdeen council improvements ‘must go on’

Aberdeen City Council HQ. The Accounts Commission has said the authority needs a 'great deal more improvement'. Picture: TSPL
Aberdeen City Council HQ. The Accounts Commission has said the authority needs a 'great deal more improvement'. Picture: TSPL
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ONE OF Scotland’s largest councils requires a “great deal more improvement”, despite already having made significant changes to how it operates, public spending watchdogs said

Aberdeen City Council has made progress since a damning report was published some seven years, according to the Accounts Commission.

There are positive signs of improvement in Aberdeen and we’re encouraged by the council’s self-awareness in recognising how it needs to improve

Douglas Sinclair

But in its latest report on the authority, it stated: “There is a great deal more improvement to be delivered and consolidated.”

The commission said it was “encouraged by the council’s self-awareness in recognising how it needs to improve” and said its priority must be to “continue its momentum” and make further progress.

In May 2008 the commission published a report on the local authority which “found that the council faced extremely serious challenges and was in a precarious financial position”.

This highlighted ‘’extremely serious’’ problems with the council’s management, finances and some services, and also said there appeared to be a ‘’fundamental morale problem’’ among many of the workers.

Accounts Commission chair Douglas Sinclair said today: “There are positive signs of improvement in Aberdeen and we’re encouraged by the council’s self-awareness in recognising how it needs to improve.

“However, it still has much more to do to secure the wider improvements it seeks in the longer-term.”

The council has “changed significantly”, according to the report, having “streamlined its organisational structures, put robust medium-term budget planning in place and dealt with the serious financial deficit it faced”.

The make-up of the council administration changed in 2012, with local government elections bringing in a Labour-Conservative-independent coalition, while the current chief executive has been in place for a year and is “putting a significant programme of improvement actions in place”.

But while the council has an agreed vision, the commission said this was “not supported by a clear set of objectives and targets”, stating that it needed to ensure its priorities and its plans are better connected.

Councillors also need to be provided with consistent information on how services are being provided, to help improve scrutiny.

Plans for systematic monitoring of arms-length external organisations (ALEOs) which run council services should be implemented, with the amount of spending that goes through such organisations having increased from less than 1% of the revenue budget in 2009/10 to almost 9% 2014/15.

Jenny Laing, leader of Aberdeen City Council, said: “The Accounts Commission has acknowledged the significant progress made in the financial management of the council and our recent budget surplus is evidence that improvement is well under way and beginning to benefit the city.

“There is more to be done and that is why we will be investing heavily in the future of our city through the recently-agreed 20-year city centre masterplan which seeks to transform for the better the way we live and work in Aberdeen.”