South Scotland

Dumfries and Galloway social work faces overspend

Dumfries and Galloway Council
Image caption External auditors have found failings in financial management of the council's social work services

A social services department criticised for its financial management is facing a potential overspend of £760,000.

The release of the figures coincided with a debate of an auditors' report to Dumfries and Galloway Council.

PwC identified a series of flaws in the budget-setting process with spending plans based on historic and unreliable information.

However, social work committee chairman Andy Fergusson said a clear improvement strategy was now in place.

Cameron Reevie of PwC said: "The failings were significant, actually, and they are things that need to be addressed and addressed quickly.

"They relate to financial and business management though, rather than the specialist social care and delivery that is given by the council."

The social work committee agreed a cross-party motion expressing significant concern about the auditors' findings.

Councillors said given many of the issues highlighted by the review had been previously reported, the lack of any pro-active measures by the department was unacceptable.

They also called for an urgent report on the wider implications of the audit report on the council's budget setting process.

An action plan - described as ambitious by the auditors - has already been put in place by social work.

Non-aligned councillor Willie Scobie remains sceptical that they have got a grip of the problems identified.

"We had an auditor's report that refers back to June and August of 2012," he said.

"And yet I did not get and I am sure that nobody else on that committee got the assurances or is filled with any confidence that we are actually dealing with the problem."

Director John Alexander, while declining to be interviewed, told the committee he was confident in being able to make the improvements required.

Social work chairman Mr Fergusson said steps had been taken to tackle the situation.

"Whilst it is an ambitious plan, given the proper resources and the proper direction things are achievable," he said.

"There is no magic easy fix here, this is going to take time.

"We have looked at the PwC report, we have looked at the action plan and we have given a clear direction to where we think this needs to go."

Mr Alexander told the committee that the latest projected overspend facing the department was linked to an increase in the number of people being classed as in critical need of care services.

'Absolute nonsense'

He said he could not rule out the deficit increasing before the end of the financial year.

Members also heard that further cash may have to be invested to hire additional finance staff to tackle the budget problems.

That drew criticism from Labour's social work spokesman, councillor David McKie.

"It is absolute nonsense isn't it?" he said.

"We need to address budget-setting properly within the council and hopefully the full council will agree with what we have said.

"But for them to suggest to spend more money and increase the overspend to address the overspend is an absolute nonsense."

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