“In view of the tightening financial position, it is unlikely that councils will be able to maintain and improve performance across all services. Councillors therefore face difficult choices in prioritising the level of services to provide. Their community leadership role is vital to the success and well-being of their local areas, and their role in scrutinising the use of resources and value for money will be increasingly important.”
So says Audit Scotland in a report, “An overview of local government in Scotland 2010”, published this morning. As we are all well aware now, the mantra of “difficult choices” is a regular feature of the financial watchdog’s statements, heightened by the colossal and possibly calamitous cuts imposed by the Conservative/Lib Dem government at Westminster. In the end, the choices are political, whether borne out of pragmatism or an attachment to ideology. In Shetland, because of the indepenent make-up of the council, they are just not party-political.
However, when compared to the other local authorities in Scotland (apart from Orkney), Shetland is in the fortunate position of possessing vast reserves. When they do make their choices as they decide on next year’s budget in February, our councillors will have to balance the likely impact of voluntary job cuts on the local economy and the consequent loss of experience on service provision with the need to run a more cost-effective authority. In its usual understated management-speak, Audit Scotland warns that councils will face “significant pressures” in the years ahead. Councillors will have to be thinking of those as well as 2011-12.