Many pixels on your compterscreen haven been used to display news about the failed and over-budget projects of the Argyll and Bute Council. The delayed Port Askaig project and the good for nothing Bruichladdich pier are two examples on Islay, other parts of Argyll and Bute like the Colonsay airport are affected too. Projects running late and over budget mean that more public money is needed than foreseen, money that could have been spent on other very necessary projects. One look at the condition of the roads in Islay and Argyll say it all. It is no more than logical that questions are raised by many, including Audit Scotland. Audit Scotland: "We help the Auditor General and the Accounts Commission to make sure organisations that spend public money in Scotland use it properly, efficiently and effectively. We do this by carrying out financial and performance audits â€“ that is, detailed and systematic investigations â€“ of various aspects of how public bodies work." The Ileach published information in December about an audit from Audit Scotland and the council's response to that audit:
Audit Scotland criticises Argyll and Bute Council: In a report published this week the Accounts Commission of Audit Scotland says that Argyll and Bute Council 'still has much to do and must increase its pace of change to establish Best Value for local people.' The latest report follows the initial report into Best Value & Community Planning at the council, published in February 2006. This found that the council had made limited progress in establishing Best Value and needed to become more outward looking and responsive to people using its services. The report says that; 'The Commission acknowledges recent improvements in leadership and strategic direction and the work of the newly appointed Chief Executive. It also highlights the councilâ€™s innovative approach to its audit committee, with the appointment of external, non-executive members as Chair and Vice Chair. However, it says that progress has been insufficient in a number of key areas and there remains much to be done to develop a culture of continuous improvement. Continue reading.....The councilâ€™s ability to effectively manage its own performance is still of concern. It does not yet have a fully functioning performance management system and needs to develop systems and processes for this. Other areas needing particular attention are risk management, learning from other organisations, reporting to the public on its performance, putting into action strategies for workforce and asset management and developing the role of Area Committees. Chairman of the Accounts Commission, John Baillie, said: 'Argyll & Bute Council is working towards providing Best Value for local people. There have been improvements since our last report, such as in political leadership and strategic direction, and in the work of the new Chief Executive. 'However, overall insufficient progress has been made since we last reported in 2006. Much more needs to be done and the council needs to increase its pace of change. We encourage the council to act on the areas highlighted in the report and in our findings.' Progress will continue to be monitored through routine audits.
The Councilâ€™s response: The Accounts Commission for Scotland has published a Progress Report on the audit of best value and community planning in Argyll and Bute Council. The initial report was published in February 2006. Responding to the report, Councillor Dick Walsh, Leader of Argyll and Bute Council said 'We welcome this report which acknowledges recent improvements in the councilâ€™s leadership and strategic direction. It also recognises the work of our newly appointed Chief Executive and our innovative approach to audit.' The Report highlights a need to increase the pace of change and identifies a number of areas for improvement including a fully functioning performance management system, identifying key performance information to monitor corporate and service objectives, and developing the role of Area Committees. Councillor Walsh added 'We recognise there is more to be done, but are confident that we are moving in the right direction. The pace of change in this council is picking up and we are poised to achieve our target aims and objectives.' Chief Executive, Sally Reid said, 'I am pleased the Accounts Commissionâ€™s report has recognised the progress we are making. We need to step up the pace of change and we have already put in place a number of systems which address areas highlighted by the Commission where we need to make more progress. We are underway with many actions which will be brought together in a wider Improvement Plan to be considered by the Council in January.'
Community Council puts pressure on Argyll and Bute Council over Port Askaig: Iain MacDonald, the Chairman of Ardchattan Community Council north of Oban has been running a long campaign demanding greater accountability from Argyll and Bute Council claiming that: 'the elected members of Oban, Lorn and the Isles have been gagged by Legal Services, and are unable to answer my questions about the Oban Airport overspend, under the direct instruction of council officials.' A report in the Press and Journal of 21st November added further fuel to the fire saying that Argyll and Bute: 'could be facing extra costs running into millions of pounds over claims by contractors on big council projects.' and singled out the redevelopment of Port Askaig pier as an example. The report said: 'the council is bracing itself for estimated additional claims of Â£1.5million on the Â£12.5million project to redevelop the pier.... (The main contractor for phase 2) Carillion completed the marine works very late and has warned the council of possible substantial claims to cover its costs.'
According to the Press and Journal, Argyll and Bute Councilâ€™s 'Director of Operational Services Stewart Turner told councillors they would be disputing these claims.' Local campaigners on Islay and Jura have claimed that the redesigned Jura ferry berth and ramp are not fit for purpose, a fact which is still forcing CalMac to divert the main Islay ferry to Port Ellen under certain circumstances. Campaigners also claim that rock has been left in the small boat basin at Port Askaig, the arrangement of steps allowing accessa to small boats is inadequate, and there is no potable water supply on the Â£14 million pier. Other transport infrastructure schemes that are being criticised include the Â£9 million Argyll Air project involving the upgrade of Oban, Coll and Colonsay airports. MacDonald makes a range of claims about the mismanagement of this project and says that the Council is 'misrepresenting' passenger numbers, which MacDonald suspects may be embarrassingly low. The number of aircraft movements through Oban have dropped dramatically since the Council took over the airport, which now employs 14 full time staff.
Other Council projects running into trouble include the Â£13.5million Rothesay harbour project on Bute, where an adjudicator has awarded Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering a further Â£1.2 million. Argyll and Bute Councillor Alison Hay told the Press and Journal: 'How are we paying out these claims that are being awarded to contractors? It seems to happen in most very large projects.'
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.