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Watchdog urges Scottish councils to make ‘fundamental changes’ to meet shifting demands

Scottish councils have been urged to make “fundamental, transformational changes” to how frontline services are designed and delivered and said that the “pace of change needs to improve.”

A report from the Accounts Commission said that councils “face an increasingly complex, changing and uncertain environment” due to rising demand and cutbacks in funding resulting in less flexibility over spending decisions.

In order to adapt to these changes, which it warns will only get worse, the local authority watchdog said that Scottish councils need to “think differently about how they deliver and fund services.”

The Local Government Overview 2019 said: “Some services are beginning to show signs of pressure and change is needed to tackle a growing gap between demand and resources.”

The report acknowledged the current efforts from local government to make savings and find new options, but said: “these activities are unlikely to be sufficient to address the growing gap between demand and resources, and more fundamental changes are needed.”

Graham Sharp, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “It’s important to recognise that councils are working hard to maintain and, in some cases, improve services.

“Now fundamental change is needed to ensure services meet the shifting demands of local communities, with councils working and collaborating with communities to deliver the change needed.

“Councils must now focus on changing how front-line services are designed and delivered.”

Councils were recently given the ability to raise a series of new levies by the Scottish Government in what one MP called a “triple tax bombshell.”

The government’s budget included powers for councils to raise council tax by 4.79% in one go, set a levy on workplace car parking spaces, and introduce a ‘tourism tax’ which Edinburgh City Council has promptly done.

The Accounts Commission recognised that adult social care remained one of the largest areas of council spend, and said that with demand continuing to rise as the population ages, “we continue to see signs that services are struggling to meet the demand for care.”

Scottish Labour’s finance spokesperson said the report “exposes the brutal legacy of the SNP’s cut to council funding,” whilst Green MSP Andy Wightman said it was “essential that councils are better resourced.”


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