Council well led but funding challenges must not be underestimated – watchdog

Dumfries and Galloway Council must make changes to how it delivers services to balance future funding gaps, report warns.

Dumfries and Galloway Council well led but funding challenges must not be underestimated – watchdog Google Maps

Scotland’s third largest council area has made “significant progress” but cannot underestimate the challenges it faces to address future funding gaps, a watchdog has said.

The Accounts Commission said Dumfries and Galloway Council has strong leadership and sound financial management and now needs to deliver its plans to reform local services.

In a report published on Thursday, it said the council has a good financial track record and has agreed a three-year budget, underpinned by detailed change and savings options.

Savings of £7.097m need to be achieved to fill the budget gap in 2023/24, with cumulative total savings of £38.121m required by 2027/28.

The report said the council has a good track record of delivering savings targets, but warned it “cannot underestimate the challenges it faces to address future funding gaps”.

Christine Lester, of the Accounts Commission, said: “Dumfries and Galloway Council has made significant progress over recent years, with strong leadership and a clear vision.

“As the council recognises, balancing future budgets relies on making changes to how it delivers services.

“Councillors and officers cannot underestimate the challenges to achieve this, and they need to make sure they are reporting clearly to citizens about their progress and performance.

“Councils across Scotland face increasingly constrained budgets and difficult decisions about services will have to be made. It makes it more important for the council to continue the effective way it engages with its communities.”

The council’s approved three-year budget includes 18 change and savings options and seven policy investment proposals.

The report said the change and savings options are expected to reduce the council’s funding gap by £2.397m in 2023/24, £7.446m in 2024/25 and £16.421m in 2025/26.

The remainder of the council’s funding gap in 2023/24 will be met through the use of service concessions fiscal flexibilities of £3.7m, and revenue flexibilities of £1m, according to the report.

However the document highlights “delivery of the change and savings programme will be key to maintaining future financial sustainability and supporting priority services”.

The commission urges the council to focus on providing clearer and more easily accessible information to local people about how services are performing, and its progress on reforms and savings plans.

The council also has “ambitious” plans to tackle climate change, but the commission says it remains to be seen how achievable these are and whether the local authority remains committed to them.

It also says there is a lack of information in the current council plan about its target of achieving net zero by 2025.

The commission, an independent body which holds councils and local government bodies in Scotland to account, urged the council to clearly set out its net zero emissions target and how it plans to achieve it.

A Dumfries and Galloway spokesperson said: “We welcome the controller of audit’s report to the Accounts Commission and are delighted that the hard work being undertaken every day by our dedicated staff at Dumfries and Galloway Council is being recognised at a national level.

“We look forward to digesting it further and are already actively implementing the report’s recommendations.”

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