"In the strongest possible place to face what lies ahead" is how the Portfolio Holder for Resource and Performance is describing South Ayrshire Council's financial position following the publication of the 2010/11 Annual Accounts.
Councillor Robin Reid made his comments following a meeting of South Ayrshire Council today (Thursday) where members were updated on the accounts and approved overall reserves of £7.534million, which will help maintain the Council's strong financial position as the public sector and local government face more and more challenges in the years ahead.
The 2010/11 Annual Accounts are the first prepared by the Council using the IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards).
The Council has transformed its financial position over the past four years, taking a more strategic and corporate approach to financial planning that has allowed services to better link their own service delivery with the resources available.
As a result, the Council has maintained a robust level of reserves that meets best practice guidelines and has also allowed the Council to direct additional funding to priority areas such as roads, which received a £1.5 million in the budget for 2011/12.
It has also established a Repairs and Renewals Fund of more than £4 million that will be used to address keys areas for improvement and created a Change Fund that will help drive key projects such as the South Carrick regeneration project and property and asset rationalisation.
The accounts confirm the Council has also allocated £2.493 million from the 2010/11 budget for specific projects in 2011/12.
Councillor Reid said: "To be in this position would have been unimaginable a few years ago when the Council was facing a negative balance in the budget. It's a credit to the officers and members of the Council that we are in the strongest possible position to face what lies ahead.
"Strong financial management that shapes a planned and measured approach to improve what we do as a Council while working to manage reducing capital and revenue budgets lies at the heart of the work to turn this Council around.
"Budgets are going down, demands are going up and we are still delivering for our communities – that's a major achievement and I am delighted we are where we are. We do still have more work to do, but the positive comments today confirm the extent of our improvement journey and just how far we have come."
The improvement update presented to members focused on the Assurance and Improvement Plan (AIP) for 2011-14 (published by Audit Scotland) as well as the Council's own improvement agenda.
The AIP details the challenges the Council faces and considers what it's trying to achieve. It then makes an assessment of the challenges likely to be faced by the Council in achieving good outcomes for local people and sets out any areas of concern about the way the Council is run.
The AIP 2011-14 recognises the good progress made by the Council in relation to the outcome themes of healthy and caring, safe, learning and achieving, and clean and attractive and makes a number of positive comments such as: "the Council has continued to address the significant challenges it faces"; "we are confident in the Council's ability to manage these risks"; "[we] have commented positively on officers' and elected members' commitment to continuous improvement".
Alongside the detail of the AIP, members were also updated on the themes of the Council's improvement work – leadership, governance, strategy, transformation, performance management and engagement – and three key corporate projects, Ayr Renaissance, the Gaiety Theatre and South Carrick Regeneration.
Councillor Bill McIntosh, Leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: "Both the AIP and our own update confirm that continuous improvement is well and truly embedded in all that we do as a Council.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again – we are the most improved Council in Scotland – and we continue on that journey every day. We have fantastic elected members and employees within the Council who are all committed to making a difference for our communities and it's clear we achieve this on a daily basis.
"We will continue to build on this to deliver the quality and best value services our communities deserve as improvement isn't just an objective – it's a way of life."