THE Accounts Commission is sending a “wake up call” to Clackmannanshire Council over its “acute” financial position as the budget for next year approaches at speed.

Together with Audit Scotland, the independent body published its statutory best value assurance report today with the findings taken to the chamber at Holyrood through a motion by Labour MSP Alex Rowley.

Members of the commission say they are “seriously concerned about the council's financial position” and that clear political leadership is needed in the wake of previous instability, which saw both SNP and Labour administrations resign in recent years.

As reported over the past weeks, the local authority will need to reduce its expenditure by around a quarter over the next three years with cuts worth around £10million in the next financial year alone.

One of the recommendations set out, upon which the commission expects the council to act, is to seek external help “of appropriate quality and experience” to urgently secure the necessary changes to sustain services.

Graham Sharp, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “This report is a wake up call.

“Councillors and officers in Clackmannanshire urgently need to work together to make the fundamental changes required to address its financial position, so that it can continue to deliver the key services people depend on.

"This means taking difficult decisions it has put off in the past. But not taking them now is not an option and will only make things worse in the longer term."

Around a year ago, the then Labour administration sought approval to commission an external party to redesign and restructure the whole organisation – at an estimated cost of anywhere between £80,000 and £500,000.

At the same time, compulsory redundancies were voted through to be used as a money saving tool in the upcoming paper.

However, the administration collapsed as it could not put forward a budget it believed in after it couldn't backtrack on its ideas and the measures were later revoked with the SNP opting to use internal capacity to drive the restructure forward.

The findings from the commission added: “The design and implementation of transformational change in a complex organisation is demanding, and more so when carried out under time and resource pressure.

“The task of securing the necessary changes to sustain services and demonstrate best value is urgent.”

The auditors found that the Making Clackmannanshire Better programme's vision, which originally sought to restructure the council, was not achieved as “a lack of consensus on the difficult decisions to be made has led to political instability”.

The report said this has contributed to a “lack of progress” in the implementation of the plans.

However, since the May 2017 election, there are signs of more effective working across political groups, added the document.

The requirement for “best value” is enshrined in legislation, with the auditors explaining: “A clear focus on the fact that the duty of best value is for the council as a whole and not only the administration of the day is central to making lasting progress.”

Clackmannanshire Unison has since called on the Scottish Government to step in and review how smaller councils are funded.