SOUTH Ayrshire Council has been warned that it is has been too slow in meeting key recommendations from a critical audit report two years ago.

On Wednesday, the council’s Audit and Governance Panel heard from Audit Scotland, which took over the audit of the South Ayrshire Council’s accounts last year.

The auditors addressed the recommendations made by the Accounts Commission’ in its 2021 Best Value (BV) Report. 

These included: ensuring it has capacity and skills to increase pace of improvements; preparing medium and long term financial plans; producing more detailed plans on projects and their benefits; and setting targets and providing more performance information to councillors.

In its audit of the council’s 2022/23 accounts, Audit Scotland stated: “The council has made progress with all the recommendations made in its 2021 Best Value Assurance Report, but the pace of  improvement has been slow in some key areas.”

Audit Scotland also said the council had yet to establish how it was going to tackle an estimated budget shortfall of between £28m and £39m by 2025-26.

Audit director Fiona Mitchell-Knight said that “public services at the local authority perform well and residents are satisfied with the services they receive".

But she added that the council must move faster in changing services for the future.

In particular, effective reporting on progress against target outcomes, to deliver council priorities, is now key to the council demonstrating Best Value.

Ms Mitchell Knight said that there continued to be an issue with measuring the council’s performance, with some of its key priorities not measured against specific targets.

The report said that the administration, councillors and officers recognise the need for ‘decisive and focussed leadership’ to achieve its priorities.

Ms Knight added: “Senior officers acknowledge this and are now focussed on developing a framework to support delivery of the new council plan.

“Reporting progress to elected members should now be a priority, to support challenge of services and focus of improvement actions.”

The report also states that two of the place plans, developed through engagement with communities in Ayr North and Girvan, had been published, but others are still to be approved.

It added: “The council plan says it is taking a place-based approach to planning services. These place plans therefore need to be published to demonstrate the focus for this approach.”

The monitoring of performance through targets remains an ongoing issue despite the 2021 recommendation.

Ms Mitchell-Knight highlighted that the council plan has focussed on sustainability, biodiversity and climate change, but that it was ‘unclear how progress will be monitored and measured’.

She went on: “We concluded that further work is still required on two of the six recommendations [in the BV report].

"These relate to further improvements needed to the council’s performance reporting and delivery of its strategic change programme.

“The council did not effectively measure its performance against targets for priorities in its previous plan. Effective reporting on progress against target outcomes, to deliver council priorities, is now key.”

It also warned against the council’s practice of focusing on areas of positive performance with less information made available to councillors on poorer performing areas and how they plan to improve them.

Another recommendation called on the council to detail how it would approach the anticipated budget gap over the medium term.

While acknowledging that the council’s change programme was working, the report said: “The council has still to establish expected cashable benefits and baseline activity for most of the projects in the programme.”

The  2021 BV report placed significant importance on addressing the speed of change and the latest report echoes those criticisms, stating that ‘relative to other council’s, South Ayrshire’s approach to transformation had been slow and inconsistent, lacking drive and urgency’.