Dumfries and Galloway Council must radically change to improve and maintain services

Dumfries and Galloway Council Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Dumfries and Galloway Council has been told it must radically change the way it operates in order to improve and maintain services.

The warning comes from local government watchdog, the Accounts Commission.

It follows a rare statement by the watchdog calling on struggling authorities across Scotland to 'get their act together' to step debts spiralling and services dwindling.

Dumfries and Galloway Council was facing a £12.9m budget deficit for this financial year, before cost-saving measures cut the gap by £5m.

It's estimated the deficit could be around the £40m mark over the next three years.

Tim McKay, acting chairman of the Accounts Commission said: "Councils have gone beyond the point where making savings is enough. If the change needed doesn't happen now, some services will continue to get worse or deeper cuts will be made.

"This will impact communities and individuals that are already at crisis point with the effects of inequality and persistently high poverty.

"Councils need to have open and honest conversations with their communities and staff about the future of council services."

One of the recommendations made is for neighbouring councils to share services to help cope with reducing budgets, growing demographic and workforce pressures, and declining performance across some services.

The watchdog says councils must now "rethink how they work together", and with local partners and communities, to provide financially sustainable services whilst tackling national issues such as climate change, child poverty and inequalities.

Mr McKay argues that councils also need better data in order to ensure that they can demonstrate their services are meeting their citizen's needs.

However, the Scottish Government and COSLA urgently need to finalise the planned 'New Deal' settlement for local government, according to the Accounts Commission.

This would allow for more long-term planning, flexibility and transparency in councils' budgeting process.

Currently, an increasing proportion of funding is ring fenced for national priorities; this restricts councils from making decisions about how to best use money to address the local needs of their citizens and communities.

Mr McKay said: "The New Deal for local government, agreed between the Scottish Government and COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities), is long overdue.

"Putting this in place will give councils longer-term financial stability, supporting them to make decisions and make the fundamental changes that are urgently needed."

Dumfries and Galloway Council was asked to respond to the Accounts Commission statement, but failed to reply.

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