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Highland Council hits back over finance criticisms

By Scott Maclennan

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Highland Council has defended its financial record after highly critical sections in an internal Deloitte report.

Derek Yule, the depute chief executive, and Allan Gunn, the head of revenues and customer services then sat down to offer their side of the story.

Mr Yule said: “We were approached by Deloitte, one of the big four accountancy firms, whether we could provide some experience to one of their young assistance risk managers but basically we took the opportunity to get a bit of free consultancy.”

He disagreed with one of the strongest criticisms that some officers thought “it does not pay to perform well” or else their budgets would be cut.

He said: “If you are managing a budget what happens is that when you raise an invoice the service budget is immediately credited with the income.

“So if you are a budget holder for a school you are not necessarily seeing your budget reduced through a failure to recover income – it is only when we review the historical debt that we can possibly start making provision for that.”

Both officials agreed the council could improve in some areas like “commercial awareness,” Mr Yule cited hiring out halls to groups that sometimes “are not actually very good at paying.”

He said: “We have got to get the right balance, we want the groups to access the facility but we also want them to pay what is a reasonable charge for them and that is probably the crux of the matter and the report did identify there were certain areas where the council wasn’t as commercially astute as it could have been.”

Mr Gunn said: “I think the other thing for me is that this was really done as joint effort between Deloitte and council staff.

“There are four key areas of the report, they are credit, collection, processing and budget monitoring – the first three allow you to see the fourth one in its entirety. I can understand how the report has come across as it has because the good bits haven’t been shared.”

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