Audit, scrutiny and improvement of councils

How local government in Scotland is audited, scrutinised and ultimately improved.

Internal scrutiny

Councils conduct internal scrutiny of their own activities through an audit or scrutiny committee which examines the performance and management of risk within the council. In some cases these committees are led by a non-councillor or an opposition member of the council.

External scrutiny

We have set up a number of independent organisations to monitor the work of local authorities in certain areas. These are detailed below:

Organisation Summary of duties
Accounts Commission Examines how Scotland's 32 councils manage their finances, helps these bodies manage their resources efficiently and effectively, promotes Best Value and publishes information every year about how councils perform.
Auditor General for Scotland Secures audits of bodies funded by the Scottish Consolidated Fund, or other bodies specified in legislation.
Audit Scotland Provides services to the Accounts Commission and the Auditor General for Scotland.
Care Inspectorate Provides assurance and protection for people who use care, social work and children's services.
Education Scotland Provides support and challenge to the education system, from early years to adult learning.
Healthcare Improvement Scotland Supports healthcare providers in order to improve the quality of the care and experience of every person in Scotland every time they access healthcare.
Scottish Housing Regulator Promotes the interests of homeless people, tenants of social landlords, or recipients of housing services provided by social landlords.

Auditing performance and best value

Audit Scotland (AS) carries out annual financial audits of every Scottish local authority. It also carries out audits which examine local authorities' achievements against their duty of Best Value. AS may undertake a special investigation if there are concerns about aspects of a council's performance.

As well as monitoring the performance of individual authorities, AS also produces reports on the performance of local government nationally. These reports look at performance in a particular service area, such as social work or roads maintenance.

AS submits its reports on local government to the Accounts Commission for Scotland which considers the reports and publishes findings.

Best Value in local government

Both central and local government share a commitment to deliver better quality public services. We have worked in partnership to develop the Best Value framework, which aims to ensure that management and business practices in local authorities develop better and more responsive public services.

Part 1 of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 places local authorities under a duty to make arrangements that secure Best Value. Section 1 of the Act defines Best Value as "continuous improvement in the performance of the authority's functions". This system was agreed with COSLA following a series of Best Value pilots in local authorities in the late 1990s. Revised statutory guidance for local authorities on performance of their Best Value duties was published in 2020.

Local authorities' delivery of Best Value is assessed as part of the annual audit process, under which audit conclusions for each council are reported through an Annual Audit Report addressed to the Controller of Audit and the councillors. In addition, the Controller of Audit will present a Best Value Assurance Report (BVAR) on each council to the Accounts Commission at least once every five years.

You can find more information on Best Value, including links to published Best Value reports, on the Audit Scotland website.

Improving performance

The Improvement Service is the national improvement organisation for local government in Scotland and they work with Scottish councils and their partners to improve the efficiency, quality and accountability of local public services by providing advice, consultancy and programme support. They also work closely with COSLA and SOLACE Scotland.

The Improvement Service has developed the Local Government Benchmarking Framework which has been designed to:

  • help councils and their services better understand why they achieve their current performance levels
  • build understanding of where council performance varies
  • build understanding of why council performance varies
  • help identify and share good practice across councils

Find out more about COSLA, SOLACE and others on our list of local government organisations.

Back to top