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Council / Progress being made on audit report concerns

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) is making good progress in its response to its mixed best value audit report published last year, a meeting has heard.

The council’s audit committee heard on Monday from SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison that there is “substantial progress being made in some key areas” and “good progress” in a number of others.

It comes after the Accounts Commission best value report, released last year, expressed significant concern in a number of areas of how the council works – including financial sustainability and performance management.

There were also a number of areas of praise highlighted by auditors.

But in order to respond to the recommendations from the report within the required 18 months an action plan was put together as well as a sounding board featuring councillors.

At Monday’s meeting Lerwick North and Bressay member Stephen Leask asked if there was more the audit committee or internal auditors could have done to foresee the criticisms in the report.

Sandison, however, said some of the results of the report were not entirely unexpected given elements had previously been raised in audits in the past.

“When we were submitting our information to the auditors, we recognised our own weaknesses,” she said.

This included the performance management system, which the council is in the process of implementing, “but we couldn’t illustrate it was fully embedded”.

“Council officers themselves were presenting areas for improvement,” Sandison said. “No council is perfect, and we would not want to think that we were.”

Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall questioned why some of the timescales for improvements had slipped, but Sandison said it was “inevitable” this would happen in some cases.

She said timescales often have to slip particularly when there is reactive work to do within the council.

Meanwhile chair of the sounding board Councillor Cecil Smith praised the efforts of SIC officers working on responding to the recommendations.

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He said he was confident if the pace is kept up then the council will be in a “better place” within the required timescale.

But he repeated warnings over the future finances of the council, given it continues to draw unsustainably from its reserves.

“To deliver on these recommendations…members must be prepared to make difficult decisions and indeed challenging choices as we move to balancing the books,” Smith said.

Audit committee vice-chair Catherine Hughson, who was presiding over Monday’s meeting, said “we still have a lot to do” to make sure the follow-up is a favourable one.

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