Coun­cil given warn­ing over ben­e­fits fail­ure

Watch­dog slams ‘in­suf­fi­cient ac­tion’

Evening Express (Extra Edition) - - NEWS - By Neil Evans

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

has made.

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