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Scottish councils operating in ‘increasingly volatile’ environment – watchdog

The new report says Scotland’s councils face a lack of certainty and flexibility over long-term funding (Jane Barlow/PA)
The new report says Scotland’s councils face a lack of certainty and flexibility over long-term funding (Jane Barlow/PA)

Pressure has intensified for Scotland’s councils as they operate in an “increasingly volatile” environment, a report has said.

The Accounts Commission’s Local Government in Scotland Overview 2022 publication, released on Wednesday, said the position for the country’s 32 councils is “challenging and complex”, with increasing demand and service backlogs being dealt with against high levels of absence and “acute skills shortages” amongst some frontline workers.

A “lack of certainty and flexibility” over long-term funding is also acknowledged, as well as pressures such as poverty and inequalities.

Such issues mean collaborative leadership with partners, communities and citizens is “more important than ever” in supporting recovery, the report said.

The Accounts Commission has suggested councils focus on ensuring the services that were cut during the pandemic are put back in place, with an evaluation making sure a recovery supports those most affected and addresses inequalities.

The publication said it is clear that “recovery and renewal across councils isn’t about a return to pre-pandemic service delivery” but about “changing and challenging how services are delivered”.

William Moyes, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “Councils are operating in a complex and increasingly volatile, unprecedented and unpredictable environment. Strong leadership from councils is needed now more than ever, with new and returning councillors being able and willing to make difficult decisions about where and how to spend highly pressurised resources.

“Pressures on councils and their communities have intensified from spiralling inflation and significant increases to the cost of living. This has direct and unintended consequences on councils at a time when they sought a period of stability to tackle the impacts of the pandemic.

Glasgow's George Square
Local authorities are facing pressure because of the coronavirus pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“Councillors and senior officers must use learning from the past two years, working with their partners and communities in the recovery, renewal and difficult decision-making about the future of services.”

Councillor Gail Macgregor, resources spokesperson for Cosla, said: “We welcome today’s local government overview report and appreciate the recognition it gives to the extremely challenging context in which Scotland’s councils are operating.

“As well as continuing to deliver essential services every day, local government is contending with the impacts of Covid, the EU exit and social care reform, as well as demographic pressures, climate change and poverty.

“All of this is set against an extremely challenging financial context, which has been set out clearly – put simply, the report recognises that local government is having to do more with less.

“We are pleased that the Accounts Commission continues to highlight the need for more funding certainty and stability, which would have positive impacts for both communities and our workforce.”

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