Council told to focus on education amid falling standards

North Ayrshire Council praised for its commitment and vision but report says education is key area for improvement.

North Ayrshire Council has been praised for its “commitment and vision” but told to focus on improving education amid falling standards in a report by the public spending watchdog.

The Accounts Commission said the local authority had made “significant progress” in the last decade but singled out education as a key area for improvement.

The report said it was “particularly pleased with progress given the challenging context in North Ayrshire of deprivation and demography”.

“We acknowledge good performance and much good practice across many of the council’s services, and we encourage the council to continue its focus on areas of poorer performance, notably in a recent decline in education indicators and low levels of self-directed support,” it said.

“There has been a deterioration in most education performance indicators, which the council is working to address.”

The report also warned further progress will be “challenging” because it will have to make more than £19 million of savings or cuts over the next two years, before any coronavirus impact is taken into consideration.

On the council’s finances, the commission raised concern about a £156 million funding shortfall over 10 years, along with budget gaps of £9.248 million in 2021-22 and £9.817 million in 2022-23.

It added: “The council has a history of delivering services within budget. However, detailed savings plans are not fully developed to address the predicted funding gap over the medium to long term.”

Citing Local Government Benchmarking Framework data, it added that satisfaction with council services has declined across Scotland in the last five years, including in North Ayrshire.

Adults satisfied with museums and galleries has fallen by 20.3%, satisfaction with leisure facilities is down 14% and there is a 10.5% fall in satisfaction with parks and open spaces – all significantly worse than the national averages.

Although satisfaction with street cleaning, rubbish collection and schools have fallen by 6.8%, 2.6% and 6.2% respectively, these categories have fallen by less than the Scottish average.

Accounts Commission chairman Graham Sharp said: “The commitment and vision of the council is impressive.

“North Ayrshire is rightly recognised as an award-winning council that looks to innovate. It continually strives to improve, working alongside its partners and local communities to make the lives of local people better, focusing on creating a thriving local economy.

“But there are challenges, including the urgent need to make savings of up to £19 million over the next two years, a need to continue looking forward to transforming the delivery of council services, whilst ensuring the lives of local people improve.“

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