Glasgow & West Scotland

Argyll and Bute Council criticised by Audit Scotland

The public spending watchdog has said that political instability at Argyll and Bute Council has made the local authority's problems worse.

Audit Scotland said working relationships between councillors - and between some councillors and officers - were strained.

Its report was compiled before a new administration was formed last month.

This ended several months of uncertainty at the council. It has had three different leaders since May 2012.

The council, which covers one of the largest geographical areas in Scotland, had no depute leader and no clear administration from May until September of this year.

Audit Scotland's report said the political instability at Argyll and Bute meant there was a lack of collective strategic leadership by councillors.

It said: "The council's current political management arrangements are contributing to the problems rather than helping the council do business effectively.

"Working relationships between councillors and between a few councillors and officers are strained and the challenges facing the council are affecting the capacity of senior managers.

"The problems are not yet affecting frontline services, but they are beginning to inhibit progress with strategic planning and there is a risk that services may suffer in the future if the current difficulties are not addressed."

In 2011, Argyll and Bute Council abandoned a controversial plan to shut several rural primary schools.

The following year the council's communications team was not fully resourced, following the suspension of the communications manager and the resignations of two additional team members.

This meant senior officers were required to take direct responsibility for managing communications issues, at a time when there was significant local media interest in a number of council decisions and over the period of the May 2012 elections.

'Improving organisation'

The report said this was one of the factors that had affected senior management capacity.

A new communications manager has now been appointed.

The new leader of the council, Dick Walsh, admitted the report made for "challenging reading" but said he was confident the authority could rise to those challenges.

He said: "There is now a sound, strong and stable administration in place. Everyone is very aware that there is work to be done. We are here to serve the people of Argyll and Bute, and that is our top priority.

"We can ensure that it remains our key focus by making sure that we take on board what is said in the report, and by working effectively in a positive way with council staff who provide essential services in our area."

The council's chief executive, Sally Loudon, added: "Our staff have continued to deliver quality, effective and efficient services to people across Argyll and Bute throughout the whole process, and I know that they are committed to doing so in the future.

"Everyone - elected members and officers - will be working hard together over the coming months so that Argyll and Bute Council continues to be an effective and improving organisation."

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