New report urges Borders council bosses to raise their game

Bosses at Scottish Borders Council are being urged to raise their game after being given a mixed review by the Scottish Government’s local authority watchdog. 

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 1:00 am
Updated Thursday, 24th October 2019, 10:23 am
Scottish Borders Council's headquarters in Newtown.

Audit Scotland’s accounts commission has been checking out the region’s council, and a report on its findings, published this week, says that although the Newtown-based authority has been making strides in improving education and economic development, many of its services are lagging behind the national average and in need of improvement. 

Councils in Scotland are ranked against key performance indicators, such as the quality of early-learning providers, the number of unemployed people assisted and the amount of available retail space in their regions. 

Audit Scotland reviewed Scottish Borders Council’s performance against 44 of those performance indicators and found that the majority are below the national average. 

Its report reads: “Performance is good or improving in the key service areas of education and social work. 

“The council is below average on many other national indicators and reports that its performance is improving on around half of its own performance indicators. 

“Residents are more satisfied with their council’s services than national data suggest.

“Performance reporting to members and the public should be more comprehensive and clearer about why performance has deteriorated and what action is being taken.

“From 2013-14 to 2017-18, the council’s performance declined for 14 indicators and declined by a margin of 10% or over on the following four indicators – quality ratings for children’s early-years service providers, the proportion of invoices sampled that were paid within 30 days, the proportion of procurement spent on local small or medium enterprises and the proportion of internal floor area of operational buildings in satisfactory condition.”

The report further highlights that some performance indicators are in excess of 10% below the Scottish average.

For example, the proportion of unemployed people assisted into work by council-funded or operated employability programmes in the Borders is just 4.2%, well below the Scottish average of 14.4%, and the amount of investment in economic development and tourism per 1,000 people is just £43,132 compared to the national average of £91,779. 

Audit Scotland has also provided the council with a series of recommendations to help it improve. 

It’s been told to:

 “Embed a culture of continuous improvement by implementing a corporate approach to self-evaluation and benchmarking.

 “Seek to improve partnership working with NHS Borders in order to support the strategic objectives of the Scottish Borders health and social care integration joint board. 

 “Improve how the Scottish Borders community planning partnership involves communities and the third sector, through greater involvement in local decision-making and by accelerating implementation of the 2015 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act. 

 “Establish a structured programme of ongoing staff consultation and engagement. 

 “Update its people plan for 2017-21 and ensure longer-term workforce plans are reflected in service and financial plans.

 “Support members’ continuing professional development by tailoring training to meet their individual needs, and use technology to make training more accessible. 

“Ensure performance reports to members and the public are more comprehensive and balanced and that they cover service performance and delivery of the Fit for 2024 programme.”

Graham Sharp, chairman of Audit Scotland’s accounts commission, said: “The continued progress Scottish Borders Council has made to transform services is encouraging. 

“Now it must focus on several critical areas including tackling underperforming services, ensuring councillors have the right training to enable them to fulfil their responsibilities and getting to grips with both staff and community engagement.”

Council chief executive Tracey Logan said: “Looking after our most vulnerable people and giving our children the best start in life are key priorities for the council, and we are justifiably proud of our track record across these areas.

“However, the report recognises that, as a small rural authority covering a huge geographical area, we face many challenges in order to improve and sustain high performance across all our service areas.

“We will take on board Audit Scotland’s feedback and recommendations, many of which we had already identified ourselves and are taking action on, and continue to drive forward transformational change across all our services through our Fit for 2024 programme.

“For example, we are already actively working with NHS Borders to improve joint working, and we also recognise that we need to do more to respond to the Community Empowerment Act in order to encourage and enable people to play their part more easily in their communities.

“A key priority for us going forward will be to improve our performance monitoring and measurement to demonstrate on a regular basis that the council’s services are continuing to meet best value and identify quickly areas where further improvements are needed.”