A report, released by the Audit Scotland’s Accounts Commission, reveals how over the last four years there has been ‘mixed progress at a strategic level, across community engagement and continuous improvement’.
However, the Accounts Commission has also heaped praise on the local authority for improving the majority of its services since 2016, and its ‘well-managed and ambitious’ strategies to improve the capital’s economy.
The report calls for the creation of a long-term strategy to deal with the financial impact and consequences of coronavirus.
The commission found the local authority is facing a £12.2m budget gap this year, although it stressed the audit was mostly carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic, which the council says could cost an additional £86m in expenditure.
The council identified around £45m from savings, reserves and government funding for Covid-19, to offset this additional expenditure, but it is still predicting a £56.5m shortfall in its 2020/21 budget.
It also states City of Edinburgh Council – Scotland’s second-largest by population, with 524,930 residents – had the lowest rate of unemployment and the highest proportion of workers in highly skilled jobs compared with other major UK cities, excluding London, before the pandemic.
An Accounts Commission press statement reads: “The City of Edinburgh Council can do more to maximise its potential to improve the city and the lives of local people.
“Whilst the ambition of the council and its partners is impressive, the detail of how it will deliver, monitor and report on its key strategic goals must be in one accessible and coherent plan.
“It is the responsibility of all local councillors, working together, to ensure the city and its services continue to improve. It is important for the council to focus on continuous improvement and the creation of long-term financial and workforce plans.
“I expect the council to act swiftly on our report. Doing so will support the council’s ambitions to improve the lives of its residents.”
Elma Murray, interim chair of the Accounts Commission and former chief executive of North Ayrshire Council, said: “Community empowerment is about allowing communities to help inform and drive the things a council should be doing much more quickly.
“What councils should be doing is bringing communities into their decision making processes.
“It can also be about transferring some assets to communities, such as things like village halls or green spaces, which allows communities to take control of their environment and apply for grants and funding that would perhaps not be available to the council - the council could be looking at doing a bit more of that.
“The council does lots of consultation with communities, but then doesn’t feed that back to those communities - those residents that provide feedback don’t get to hear about that feedback has accomplished.”
Council leader and Leith councillor Adam McVey, SNP, welcomed the report’s findings: “We are pleased to note their positive comments about the levels of ambition we have shown in addressing our key priorities of poverty, sustainability and wellbeing.
“The Controller of Audit acknowledged the improving picture of our core services, while our bold strategies to put people at the heart of how we design public space, our proven ability to take difficult decisions like taking trams to Newhaven, and extensive consultations with residents and stakeholders to put communities at the heart of our decision-making are all cited as strengths.
“Of course, we’re always striving to improve wherever we can so that we deliver the best possible services and achieve what we’ve set out to achieve on behalf of the people of Edinburgh.
“We are now carefully reviewing the full report and will work hard to address areas in need of our attention going forward.”
Lothian MSP Miles Briggs, Conservatives, said: “City of Edinburgh Council still needs to do more to engage with community groups and third sector organisations on a more regular basis to improve decision making on a local level and provide best results.
“Early intervention work in communities could allow for more effective delivery of services, as well as providing local residents best value for money.”
Joseph Anderson, Local Democracy Reporting Service