Edinburgh Council Needs To Improve

Edinburgh City Council must make "substantial improvements'' to help meet demand for services and achieve necessary savings, a new report has found.

The Audit Scotland report revealed some of the £138 million of savings needed by the local authority to balance its books by 2017/18 have not yet been achieved or have been scaled back, while the means of closing a £67 million savings gap have yet to be identified.

Auditors found it is too early to say whether the local authority's programme to achieve the savings will succeed.

It is not clear what alternative strategy it would follow if the programme fails, while the council also faces substantial risks from the financial implications of the statutory repairs service, the report says.

Problems with mismanagement of the statutory repairs service cost the authority millions and led to the scheme being suspended.

The report also notes that the council has yet to put a workforce strategy in place - "a significant strategic failure''. The strategy is needed to ensure it has the sufficient number of people with the right skills making up its 18,000-strong workforce.

"A workforce strategy is essential in enabling the council to manage and plan its required savings,'' the report states.

"Also in our previous findings we advised that the council needed to improve its information and communications technology: this is fundamental to effective transformation and we note that this is an area that still requires improvement.''

The council has had to deal with significant issues in the 18 months since auditors published their last report, including the death of a pupil at Liberton High School as a result of a wall collapsing and a report on the baby ashes scandal at Mortonhall Crematorium.

Such incidents, as well as the long-standing problems with the statutory repairs service, have "absorbed significant amounts of senior managers' time'', the report found.

This has led to concerns about the "pace of change'' within the council in order to meet its savings targets.

Douglas Sinclair, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: "The City of Edinburgh Council has made some progress and that is encouraging. But it still has a long way to go, amid increasing demands and rising levels of required savings, and the continued lack of a workforce strategy is a significant omission.''

The commission has asked for a further report next year by which time it expects to see "substantial improvements''.

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