South Ayrshire Council must move faster in changing services for the future, according to a report published last week.

The Accounts Commission, a government body watchdog, revealed that the council has been slow and inconsistent in making necessary changes to how it delivers services.

The commission is also concerned over the council’s lack of a medium-term financial plan.

It says this must be closely linked and integrated with other critical strategies, including a robust workforce plan, service transformation plans, and plans to improve local people’s lives.

Adding, it is crucial these plans reflect future financial, service and demand pressures facing the council.

Councillors, together with senior officers, need to demonstrate greater leadership and commitment to transforming how the council and its services are run and provided as it recovers from the pandemic.

Just yesterday, at a Leadership Panel meeting the council acknowledged the financial difficulties they face, saying that they could be over budget by as much as £52 million in the next three years.

They are investigating how to balance the books, with two options currently on the table. One the raising of council tax or fees and other charges, the other being making cuts to services and staff.

Tim McKay, interim deputy chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “Overall, services in South Ayrshire Council are currently performing well.

“But it is frustrating that the momentum on change and transformation that we saw in 2016 has not been maintained.

“Without robust longer term financial planning, linked to a strategic approach to managing both its workforce and changing the way services are delivered, the council will not be able to manage budget reductions alongside increased service demand.

“A much greater pace of change, drive and momentum is needed to deliver on this.”

However, the report adds that the local authority perform well and residents are satisfied with the services they receive.

It also claimed many council services are performing well, including those aimed at improving the local economy.

It stated citizens benefit from the good relationships between local communities and partner organisations and between councillors and council officers, saying that together, they responded effectively to tackle Covid-19.

The Accounts Commission holds councils and other local government bodies in Scotland to account and helps them improve by reporting to the public on their performance.

They operate impartially and independently of councils and of the Scottish Government.

A spokesperson for South Ayrshire Council said: “The report recognises that we responded quickly to the Covid-19 pandemic, while continuing to deliver vital services.

“The report also highlights that we have a clear vision, which reflects the needs of our communities.

“While the controller of audit notes some of the high quality services that we deliver, there are also recommendations for improvement and plans are in place to address these.”

Audit Scotland is a statutory body set up in April 2000, under the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act, 2000. It provides services to the Auditor General for Scotland and the Accounts Commission for Scotland. 

The report was also critical of the council’s transparency throughout the Covid pandemic, with South Ayrshire being one of the only council’s in the country not provide video access to meetings. The report says that “more comprehensive and accessible public performance reporting and reinstating good public access to council meetings,” is needed.

In reaction, South Scotland MSP Sharon Dowey weighed in on this aspect of the council’s failure, she said: “I’ve heard first-hand the concerns that local residents have on issues with transparency in South Ayrshire Council. With other local authorities providing the public with remote access to council meetings, why couldn’t South Ayrshire Council do the same?

“It’s worrying that the public aren’t being given a look in when it’s their money that’s being spent on controversial projects like the Citadel.”

“The fact it’s taken protests from local residents to get this SNP-led council to change its way says it all. The mounting pressure on the council has now pushed them to begin live streaming their meetings so now at least the public can finally find out what’s been going on down at County Buildings.”