Council / Mixed feedback for council in best value report

The SIC’s approach to transformation has been ‘slow, lacking drive and urgency’, report says

Lerwick Town Hall.

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) has been slow to improve its plans for financial sustainability and has not yet demonstrated that it is meeting its ‘best value’ duty in a number of important areas, according to a new report.

The Audit Scotland report also highlights that while the council’s elected members and senior management have good working relationships, “they are not yet providing the strategic leadership needed to co-ordinate and drive forward plans”.

There is also a criticism that the council did not formally consult with the public on its Our Ambition programme, which sets the political direction for the next five years, or its latest budget.

The findings are part of a new Accounts Commission report which assess how the council is delivering best value.

Commission chairman William Moyes said at a meeting on Thursday that he felt it showed some evidence of a “badly led council” in which political leadership had been “pushed aside”.


Public watchdog Audit Scotland, which prepared the report for the commission, describes best value as “ensuring there is good governance and effective management of resources, with a focus on improvement, to deliver the best possible outcomes for the public”.

The list of key conclusions in the report is a mixed bag; there are both positives and negatives for the council leadership and elected members.

The SIC has been slow to improve its plans for performance management and reporting, its transformation programme and aspects of its community engagement and empowerment, it says.

“The elected members need to increase their ambition, pace and focus to deliver in these important areas,” the report adds.

With an estimated funding gap of between £61.2 million and £142.1 million over the next five years, there is “no clear plan of how the required savings will be made”.

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“The council has been slow to deliver on transformation with a lack of pace and urgency to move it forward,” the report also concludes.

“The Change Programme has been put in place but is piecemeal and lacks sufficient resources.”

There was also praise: Our Ambition “sets a clear vision for the council and its communities,” the report says.

Council services also perform well, and high satisfaction is reported.

The SIC’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was also praised, as was the partnership working at play in Shetland.

The council is also making good progress with implementing some aspects of the Community Empowerment Act, although progress on some aspects is slow.

The report adds that the council is making improvements to its performance management arrangements, is trying to working to improve educational attainment and is “committed to reducing inequalities”.

There are a number of recommendations for the council to take forward, including elected members working with council management to set out how it will meet the estimated funding gap.


There is also an emphasis on the council engaging more with communities on key strategic plans and developments.

Also included in the recommendations are improving performance management and reporting, and fully embedding its Change Programme, which is seen as a “key enabler” for the delivery of Our Ambition.

The best value report was presented to a meeting of the Accounts Commission on Thursday morning, although any decisions taken off the back of the document are due to be made in private.

Chairman Moyes said he was not feeling as “sanguine” as other members in the meeting after reading the report.

Executive director of performance audit and best value Antony Clark said the commission had a “long and somewhat chequered history with Shetland Islands Council” given that serious concern was expressed about its leadership back in 2010.


A key message from the meeting was the council is delivering services well, but there remains concern over the pace of change and consistency – something that was described as a “dichotomy’ and a “paradox”.

Clark, who prepared the report, said he hoped the assessment could be a “call to arms” for the council and told the commission that the document’s findings were accepted by SIC officers and elected members.

Following a question Clark said he was reassured that the council was targeting its resources and spend carefully.

But the meeting heard that with the projected funding gap, urgency was key in terms of trying to get on a sustainable financial footing.

Clark also said the “jury is out” over the SIC’s procurement processes, which previously sparked concern among auditors.

He also said the “council does need to start making some more difficult decisions” and engaging with the community on its financial position moving forward.


When it comes to consultation with the community the meeting also heard there needs to be a more structured process in place, with the council perhaps feeling it already engages with the public on a day to day level.

There was also a question of whether the council is lacking skills to move forward, but the response was that it was more of a capacity issue.

A response from Shetland Islands Council has been sought.

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