Scots councils called to account

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The Independent Online
THE public sector watchdog has criticised seven new Scottish councils for failing to produce their accounts for examination. In its annual report for 1997, The Accounts Commission for Scotland expresses concern over the "severe delays" which have prevented it from establishing if councils are spending public money in a proper way. The report also highlights a worrying level of misconduct among council workers.

Over half, 83, of the 150 frauds detected in Scottish councils in 1997 were carried out by council employees, the report says. The cases would have cost the taxpayer pounds 154,000.

The seven councils "named and shamed" by the Commission are: Clackmannanshire. East Ayrshire, East Lothian, Fife, City of Glasgow, North Ayrshire, and West Dumbartonshire.

In addition, 19 of the former regional and district councils' audits have still not been completed, despite the fact that the deadline for their submission was last August.

The Chairman of the Accounts Commission, Professor Ian Percy said: "It is of great concern that we do not yet have assurance from the audit that all our local councils spent public money properly in 1996 and 1997.

"I see no reason why local authorities should not mirror the efficiency of the health service and indeed, large companies in the private sector reporting on time."

The Commission said an estimated pounds 90m was lost to housing benefit cheats and up to pounds 10m in prescription frauds and errors. Professor Percy said: "Millions of pounds could be saved each year by identifying and wiping out weaknesses in these systems."