COUNCILLORS in East Renfrewshire need to be “more actively involved in taking hard decisions,” a public spending watchdog has said.

An Audit Scotland report for the Accounts Commission found the local authority has largely retained the high performance noted in a previous audit in 2005.

However, auditors warned a “significant” increase in the scale and rate of change since 2005 presents “risks” to workforce capacity and service provision and highlighted “unprecedented” savings targets of £26million by 2021/22.

The report states: “It is crucial that elected members play a more prominent role in leading this change.

“Member decision-making needs to be more prominent and transparent, and supported by more robust scrutiny.”

Auditors criticised the amount of scrutiny carried out informally but praised the council’s “clear vision and direction” and “good relationships” with officers and partnership work.

The report found performance is “good overall” as most indicators have remained stable or improved in recent years, with the largest improvements in education and household waste recycling.

The past six years have seen “significant improvements” in the percentage of pupils gaining five or more awards at Level 6, including those from more deprived backgrounds.

One indicator that fell significantly was the number of people aged 65 and over with intensive needs receiving care at home.

The report states the council is in a strong financial position, with high levels of reserves and low levels of borrowing, but consistently underspends its revenue budget, generating high levels of unplanned year-end balances.

Auditors have recommended the council discovers the reason for continual underspends and introduces “more realistic budgeting policies and practices which reflect actual spending levels and patterns more closely,” particularly in the face of increasing financial pressures.

Ronnie Hinds, acting chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “East Renfrewshire has made progress since 2005. However, like all councils, it faces the challenge of serving a changing population with a reducing budget and few easy ways to save money.

“It is consulting local residents on savings options and a priority now is for councillors to be more actively involved in taking hard decisions.”

To see the Accounts Commission’s ‘Best Value’ report on East Renfrewshire Council, click here.