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Council / Councillors content with response to best value audit report

SHETLAND councillors have welcomed progress the local authority has made in responding to a mixed best value audit report.

Shetland Islands Council (SIC) chief executive Maggie Sandison said “substantial progress has been made in all areas” following the 2022 report, delivered by the Accounts Commission.

She told a meeting of the SIC’s audit committee on Monday that the majority of actions included in an action plan developed in response to the report have now been completed.

The best value report, prepared for the Accounts Commission by Audit Scotland, highlighted significant concern in a number of areas of how the council works – including financial sustainability and performance management.

There were also areas of praise highlighted by auditors.

Best value is described as ensuring that there is good governance and effective management of resources, with a focus on improvement, to deliver the best possible outcomes for the public.

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

Sounding board chairman councillor Cecil Smith told Monday’s meeting that he was pleased with how the progress has gone, particularly as the SIC was “squeezed for time” when the report came in.

“I think it’s congratulations to the officers that we are where we are,” he said.

“Obviously we never agreed on everything – we had some discussions about things – but at the end of the day we got where I wanted to get to, [which] was a much better place than when we first got the best value report.

“It’s not finished – I think that we need to remember that. There’s still somebody looking at us wondering what we’re doing and are we going to do enough to keep them happy.”

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Meanwhile SIC depute leader Gary Robinson said he felt best value is “never finished – it is ongoing”, adding that it is important not to take the “eye off the ball”.

Committee vice-chair Catherine Hughson, presiding over Monday’s meeting, commented that “best value should be something we strive to do every day”.

During questioning, engagement with the public – one area of criticism in the best value report, particularly when it came to things like budget setting – was raised.

Lerwick North and Bressay councillor Stephen Leask said the SIC seems to have “stepped things up” in that regard – saying for example he had seen information adverts on budget setting whilst watching a film at Mareel.

Sandison said there is already a very high awareness of the council’s work in the community – particularly as one third of Shetland’s working age population are employees of the SIC.

She noted that the best value audit challenged the SIC on engagement with the community on finances, and said the council had pushed communications on budget and workforce issues.

Sandison said there is also “parallel” work ongoing where individual services take forward conversations about change to gather people’s opinions.

However Shetland West councillor Liz Peterson said she felt the SIC has not done so well in getting feedback from communities.

Sandison said there has been a number of methods of gaining feedback, from questionnaires to the Nort Natters engagement events held for people in the North Mainland.

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