The Accounts Commission, together with the Auditor General for Scotland, has an increasingly important and prominent role in Scottish public life. I want to enhance that role further.
The Accounts Commission is unique in Scotland. It is the only truly independent voice that oversees local government in its entirety.
Alongside our reporting on the performance of councils and Integration Joint Boards, we report on key issues impacting the delivery of council services across Scotland. And together with the Auditor General for Scotland, we bring our collective insight to report on national concerns too.
I passionately believe in working for and with the public to re-build their confidence in public services. We all use council services, many of us work in local government, and therefore we all have a relationship with our local council. It is the responsibility of the Accounts Commission to provide assurance in public about how the money we all contribute ensures these lifeline services work for them.
Having spent the first 20 years of my career in the civil service, including the NHS, and later as a Chair and a non-executive director in the public and private sectors, I have a passion for the power and impact oversight and scrutiny bodies can have in improving services.
But what gives the Commission such a powerful voice, is the collective knowledge of all Commission members. They bring expertise, insight and experience from across many public services.
Given this power and impact, one of my priorities as Chair will be recruitment to bring the Accounts Commission to its full complement of 12 members. I want to welcome people from across Scotland’s communities to apply – that lived experience of our local services will provide an essential depth and perspective.
The work of the Commission will be underpinned by a focus on a number of key areas. This includes reporting on the deepening of inequalities throughout Scotland’s communities. It’s a deteriorating situation, amplified by the multiple impacts of Covid-19 and the unintended consequences of stopping or reducing essential services.
Now council services must focus on doing things differently. As our recent joint briefing on social care highlighted, many services aren’t delivering what people want and need. As councils plan their post-Covid recovery, we cannot afford to go back to old ways of working.
And whilst these issues aren’t entirely caused by funding, the financial position of councils will continue to be a key concern in our work.
Councils must also take a lead in tackling the impacts of climate change, in supporting communities to live and behave very differently, to pivot policies and programmes for change. At both local and national level, it means reducing emissions by redesigning traffic and public transport systems, minimising travel by vehicles fuelled by petrol and diesel, whilst enabling and promoting walking, cycling and the use of electric vehicles. Planning policies and decisions will need to incentivise the re-use of buildings rather than demolition and total replacement.
Change on this scale is politically and technically difficult. And it comes at a time when local authorities already face multiple challenges, including recovery from a pandemic which remains a major threat.
We live in changing times and our reporting will be flexible and responsive. We must do so to be relevant to local people. From 2022/23, our Best Value audit work in councils will be integrated within our annual audits of council. With annual audits of each council being considered in depth by the Commission at least once every five years, we will regularly identify thematic work to be covered yearly by all auditors.
Throughout our reporting we will continue to put a spotlight on why communities must be empowered.
Our recent joint reporting with the Auditor General on community empowerment emphasises the value of councils working with their local communities, to design and deliver services differently. We also highlighted in our social care briefing how essential it is for services to be co-designed with local communities.
Over the next few months, I will be working with Commission members to establish opportunities for local communities to give us insight into the impact of council services on their lives and communities.
I see this as a vital component of the work and place of the Accounts Commission in Scotland’s public life. To give the voice of people who rely on public services and give greater purpose to what we do.
Dr William Moyes, Chair of the Accounts Commission