Council given warning over benefits failure
Watchdog slams ‘insufficient action’
A NORTH-EAST council was warned today that it was under close scrutiny after it failed to take sufficient action to tackle benefits problems.
The Accounts Commission said it would be carrying out another inspection of Aberdeenshire Council after it had failed to deal with issues raised five years ago.
An inspection by Audit Scotland in 2008 showed 12 areas of risk in the authority’s benefits department, and a follow up inspection last year said nine of them still had not been tackled.
The Commission, part of Audit Scotland, said the council was too slow in processing new benefit claims.
Commission chairman John Baillie said: “There has been insufficient action within the council to address matters arising from the initial audit.
“Senior managers must do more to ensure action is taken within agreed timescales. “Councillors need to ensure they receive better information on service performance and use that information to scrutinise the performance of services such as housing benefits, and to hold senior managers to account.” But today the council defended its record. A spokeswoman said: “Aberdeenshire Council takes the views of Audit Scotland very seriously but feels that the positive progress made across the benefits service has not been fully reflected in the report.
“The council has already agreed to undertake a more robust reporting of performance through the Scrutiny & Audit Committee, and this will enhance reporting that currently takes place.
“During this period the council has also been recognised at a national level through its work in integrating free school meals and clothing grants with benefit assessments, and this has increased take-up of these added benefits.
“The council is committed to delivering a quality benefits service and is confident that the processes that are now in place will continue to build on the work that has already taken place to improve performance.” Five years ago the Accounts Commission launched an inquiry into Aberdeen City Council after a damning report into parts of its services, but has since praised the authority for improvements it