Accounts Commission annual report 2018/19

Chair's foreword

Graham Sharp

Financial pressures on our local government services continue, and at the same time demands on services are increasing, all at a time of ongoing uncertainty over our future relationship with the EU.

Graham Sharp
Chair of the Accounts Commission

Read more from the Chair...

As the public’s independent watchdog, the Commission provides assurance that public money is well spent, it also helps councils to improve.

Financial pressures on our local government services continue, and at the same time demands on services are increasing, all at a time of ongoing uncertainty over our future relationship with the EU.

The Commission are now approaching the half-way stage of auditing all Scotland’s councils as part of our new approach to auditing Best Value. I am pleased that those councils we reported on this year have made good progress. And our auditors have also noted improvement across the six councils we reported on last year. This is a testament to the efforts of those councils involved and their partners.

There has been much change this year in the Commission, in what is now my second year as chair. We welcome four new members, Andrew Burns, Andy Cowie, Christine Lester, Sharon O’Connor who bring a wealth of experience; and my thanks to Alan Campbell, Sandy Cumming, Christine May for their valuable contributions and insights over the years.

Our annual report reflects the wide range of work undertaken. I’m grateful to Audit Scotland and all the audit firms for their efforts in preparing the audits,, and to councils and all our stakeholders for their contribution also. Our work programme reflects our increasing use of joint reports with the Auditor General. This reflects how services are increasingly provided collaboratively across the public sector.

The  Commission has reported on significant issues including progress with integrated health and social care services. This has highlighted important messages that Ministers are taking forward to ensure the success of these vital services. Our overview reports continue to highlight issues across local government, putting a spotlight on cost pressures and growing demands. These are an ongoing challenge for councillors, chief executives and all council employees.

Councils have fed back to us that they value the different ways we report our messages. We  will continue looking at how we do this to reach new audiences. Our aim is to deliver a responsive audit that adds value. We will continue to work closely with the Auditor General to develop our programme of audits in consultation with the public and our stakeholders.

Increasing the profile of scrutiny

A key priority for us is to help local communities scrutinise their own councils. We communicate our messages in different ways to reach our audiences.

Our national audit reports and reports on individual councils attract much public and media interest. Increasingly we use different formats to summarise our key messages.

Our Engagement strategy gives more information about how we promote our messages.

Statutory performance information direction

Councils are required to report their performance in public. We published our three-yearly Statutory Performance Information Direction, setting out how they should do this.

Our national work

National Fraud Initiative in Scotland 2016/17

Audit Scotland coordinates this initiative every two years, involving nearly 100 public bodies in Scotland. It identified £18.6 million of potential fraud of errors since the last report in 2016.

2018 annual update on Housing Benefit Performance audit

Our 2018 annual update examined the housing benefit performance of five councils. It found weaknesses in business planning and performance reporting, and risks in the capacity to improve at a time of major change.

Impact reports

We published three impact reports looking at how councils and other bodies have responded to our recommendation. Impact reports are undertaken around 18 months after a performance audit is published.

Health and social care integration: update on progress

Our second report on health and social care integration found that Integration Authorities face significant challenges through rising service demand and mounting financial pressures on councils and the NHS.

Find out some of the key facts from our update report.

Find out about the changes in health and social care integration.

Reporting on individual councils

We published seven Best Value reports looking at how councils plan and deliver local services, how well they use public money, and how they improve as organisations.

Best Value

The Commission has powers to publish statutory reports to bring serious issues of wider concern to public attention. In April 2018, we published a report on Edinburgh schools, in which the Commission considered the circumstances of a wall collapse at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh in January 2016.

Ensuring quality in our work

Audit Quality

In assuring the public about the performance of councils, we need to ensure that our work is of high quality, independent and based on sound evidence. Our independent quality assurance team monitors the quality of all auditors' work and audit work is subject to internal and external independent review.

Working with others

National Scrutiny Plan

We are looking at new ways to involve the public, communities and our local government stakeholders in what we do. Last year, we hosted events with councils across Scotland to hear about the pressures facing them, and consulted over our future audit programme.

The Commission works with other scrutiny bodies to publish our annual National Scrutiny Plan for Local Government.

Action Plan 2018/19

Accounts Commission reports

In our 2018/19 action plan, we committed to a number of activities we would do during the year involving the work we would carry out and how we would do it.Read more about our next action plan in our strategy for 2019-24.

 Read about the progress we made on the action plan - PDF 1.4Mb

Engagement Plan 2018/19

Accounts Commission members

Our engagement plan outlined the areas we engaged about, who we would engage with and how we would do it.

 Read about the progress we made on the engagement plan - PDF 102Kb