Local government accounts – what can they tell me?

All 32 of Scotland’s councils publish a wealth of information through their annual accounts. They can tell you everything from how much your council spent on social work or education to the value of their buildings and what reserves they have built up over time. The Accounts Commission’s report ‘An Overview of Local Government in Scotland 2016presents a high level view of how councils manage finances.  But getting more specific information that compares spending over time or between different councils from published accounts can be difficult and time consuming. To help, we’ve produced an interactive exhibit which makes these comparisons easy.

Councils make decisions about how best to manage their finances and these will be influenced by various local factors, including local priorities, the size and nature of the area they serve – be it rural or urban – and their local assets and infrastructure.. . For example, councils that still own council houses will generally spend a greater proportion of total spending on housing. This means that comparing some items from the accounts, and some councils to each other, might not be as useful as you first think. All 32 councils, however, need to provide certain core services and looking at how spending on services varies between councils, and within each council over time, can be a useful way of seeing how they are managing their priorities and money.

In this year’s interactive exhibit we have focused on council spending on services: what they spent in total on each of their main services (gross spend) and what they spent after  grants and service charges were taken into account (net spend). By clicking on a particular service you can see how spending has changed over time. You can also look at these changes in real terms, where the figures have been adjusted for inflation, to show what the earlier amounts would have been worth in 2014/15. Comparing these figures over time can provide a useful insight into how your council has managed its budget in a period of reducing public spending.

We intend to update this information as we receive new figures (2015/16 figures will be added once they are available later this year). We have focused on one particular part of the accounts but we’re keen to hear what you think is missing and what you think we should consider including in the future.

About the author

MM6A6194Martin Allan is an audit officer with Audit Scotland’s Performance Audit & Best Value group. Before joining the organisation he worked in statistics in the English civil service – first in the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, then in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

2 thoughts on “Local government accounts – what can they tell me?

  1. I have just read the Audit Scotland report 2015/16 for Falkirk Council.
    Falkirk Council, since 2009 was failing to collect revenues for Community Heating and Hot water from residents of six high rise blocks and have recently issued letters demanding payment of arrears going back seven years.
    One tenant had (allegedly) enquired several times over the seven years about differences between hers and a neighbour’s rent. She states she was advised: “Don’t worry, it’s in your rent”. There is nothing of this arrangement in the Tenants Agreement.
    One tenant has been advised that the fault did in fact lie with Falkirk Council and the £1,100 arrears has now been waived.
    This, only after his Lawyer wrote to the Council.
    My Problem relates to those “older” people in these blocks who would not read the letter, which states that failure to respond would incur an automatic increase in Direct Debit to incrementally pay off these arrears. Some will probably not be able to afford this but will not question the increase. I doubt if Falkirk Council will have cancelled the arrears of all those affected.

    What, if any, action could we expect from Audit Scotland under these circumstances? Geoff. Morgan

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