Scottish councils under fire

Weaknesses in financial planning were among a series of problems highlighted by the Accounts Commission as being rife in Scottish councils this week.

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In an overview of local authority audits in 2004, the Scottish watchdog revealed a number of areas of concern.

Along with weaknesses in financial planning, it highlighted a failure to address fully the commission’s previous concerns about effective audit committees, budgetary control and monitoring, and for councils to have a clear policy on reserves and balances.

A commission spokeswoman refused to name specific councils, saying the report was a ‘general overview’, not a ‘naming and shaming exercise’.

In a separate report, released today by the Accounts Commission, the Shetland Islands council was given until 30 June to provide an ‘improvement plan’ on its ‘unsustainable’ public spending policy.

Accounts Commission chairman Alastair MacNish, who examines how Scotland’s 32 councils and 34 joint boards manage their finances, said he had ‘significant concerns’ over how Shetland – one of Scotland’s most affluent councils – managed its finances. ‘The council has a duty to spend public money efficiently and should balance its books without dipping into its reserves,’ he said.

Although MacNish welcomed the council’s ‘honest self-assessment’ of where it stands and how it needs to improve, he also said that it had ‘much work to do if it is to ensure the sustainability of its resources for future generations’.

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