South Ayrshire Council's leader has said that the council’s poor showing in a major audit came as a "surprise".

Councillor Peter Henderson made the comment as councillors considered a plan to tackle the issues raised in the Accounts Commission Best Value report in October.

Audit Scotland carried out the best value audit of SAC between January and June 2021.

During that time, the SNP councillor said, no issues were fed back to the council.

Cllr Henderson said: “We fully accept the Best Value report and I am pleased that steps have already been taken.

“I also note during whole period the audit was being carried out at South Ayrshire Council all [feedback] came back with no real problems.

“So it was a bit of a surprise when the report came back at the end of the period.”

This issue was echoed by Conservative councillor Bob Pollock.
He said: “I think most of us were disappointed to have found this out so late on.

“Could I get get some assurance that we will pick up these type of issues as they start to develop, rather than wait to the end of five years to find out we have issues?”

Depute council leader Brian McGinley questioned the financial focus of the auditors.

“I don’t feel the audit process recognises importance of organisational development and culture,” he said.

“I have asked the Accounts Commission to consider ensuring staff carrying out audits are qualified in sociology and anthropology and have a background in these areas, so they can understand better how bureaucracies and other organisations work, rather than having too much of a focus on the financial element.

“If they are going to focus on work with communities, they should have some background in community development.

“If they do that, they will find other issues but also a better area for solutions.”

Ayr Conservative councillor Ian Davis also asked whether the existing reserves would meet the cost of the action plan.

Chief executive Eileen Howat replied that she would endeavour to do so, but pointed out that one of the recommendations of the Accounts Commission was centred on ensuring capacity, which may require further proposals.

The report had shown that the council’s performance has declined in comparison to other Scottish councils.

The recommendations of the Accounts Commission called for the council to:

  • Ensure it has capacity and skills to increase pace of improvements
  • Prepare medium and long term financial plans
  • Improve workforce planning, linked to its priorities and plans
  • Produce more detailed plans on projects and their benefits
  • Set targets and provide more performance information to councillors
  • Ensure councillors make use of training opportunities