MAJOR changes are finally on the way in the senior ranks at South Ayrshire Council – almost a year after the authority was slammed by a government watchdog.

Director of place Donald Gillies was given less than a week to clear his desk following a special meeting of the local authority’s cabinet on Friday; he will leave the council this Thursday, September 15.

It comes after national watchdog Audit Scotland carried out an assessment of the council’s performance over the last five years.

In a report published in October 2021 it found that little progress had been made in the council’s pursuit of ‘best value’.

Issues included:

- Lack of transparency, with the public unable to view meetings during the pandemic, a lack of performance targets and progress reporting and difficulty accessing information online;

- Little leadership training for management;

- Less than half of councillors attending training;

- Medium-term financial planning underdeveloped;

- No link between the council’s priorities and its plans for employees;

- A risk of running out of reserves by 2027.

The audit added that there was no summaries allowing easy scrutiny to see whether services were improving or declining.

“The council’s public performance reporting is not easily accessible, and lacks information on why performance has declined and on the council’s proposed response.”

It added that the council was “not sufficiently well developed to provide assurance about its financial sustainability, with no medium-term financial plan in place”.

Following last week’s Cabinet meeting a spokesperson said: “South Ayrshire Council at its meeting of September 9, 2022 agreed that Donald Gillies, director of place, would leave the service of the council on September 15, 2022.

“Mr Gillies joined the council in 2013 as head of corporate resources and was appointed as director of place in January 2018.

“The council wishes to place on record our thanks to Donald for his guidance and leadership in modernising the school estate, rationalising the office estate and driving forward the Ayrshire Growth Deal, and wish him every success in the future.”

As well as Mr Gillies’ departure, councillors at last week’s special cabinet meeting approved major changes to the authority’s corporate leadership team “to address the recommendations contained in the Best Value audit report.”

The revised structure includes the creation of an additional director’s post and one additional assistant director with responsibility for education, alongside the loss of one quality improvement manager’s post.

South Ayrshire Council’s chief executive, Eileen Howat, said: “It’s important that we get things right for both the people we’re here to serve and our hard-working employees.

“This revised management structure will allow us to fulfil our commitment to residents, by placing a focus on providing the services they rely on.”

Councillor Martin Dowey, the authority’s leader, said: “In these uncertain times the people of South Ayrshire need and deserve stability and confidence in their council. A dedicated, driven corporate leadership team is essential to this.

“Last year’s best value assurance report recommended that the council should ‘assure itself that it has the capacity and skills required to increase its pace of improvement in key aspects of best value, such as community planning and empowerment, financial and workforce planning, and transformation’.

“Today we agreed a chief officer structure that will undoubtedly achieve this recommendation and take the administration’s plans forward, whilst ensuring the best service delivery for our communities.

“We believe in making changes for the right reasons and I’m sure this amended structure will provide robust leadership across the organisation, helping us to realise our ambitions.”