The report’s findings come after months of wrangling over control of the council’s ruling administration – which included FOUR changes of leadership in 2013 – and prompted Alan Reid, Argyll and Bute MP, to brand the recent political administration ‘a shambles’.

The report, published this week, said: “The council’s current political management arrangements are contributing to the problems rather than helping the council do business effectively.

“Working relationships between councillors and between a few councillors and officers are strained and the challenges facing the council are affecting the capacity of senior managers.

“The problems are not yet affecting frontline services, but they are beginning to inhibit progress with strategic planning and there is a risk that services may suffer in the future if the current difficulties are not addressed.” The Audit Scotland Report revealed the ‘political instability’ has led to a lack of strategic leadership, and identified ‘strained’ working relationships between some councillors and officers as an area of concern, which could impact front-line services if action is not taken.

The report was compiled before the new administration was formed last month, and Audit Scotland made reference to the fact that since May the council had no depute leader and no clear administration.

It also found changes in political groupings – as well as shifting allegiances across and within these groups – are exacerbating a ‘culture of mistrust’ and putting a strain on working relationships.

As part of the turmoil, former leader of the council coalition Roddy McCuish resigned in February before the newly appointed leader, SNP Councillor James Robb, stepped down in late spring after just three months at the helm. This move was the result of a request by his group and a failed SNP alliance with four Liberal Democrat and three Conservative councillors.

Councillor McCuish again took up the reins briefly at the end of summer before the new council leader, Independent Councillor Dick Walsh, stepped into the chair in September with Liberal Democrate Councillor Ellen Morton is the new deputy leader.

Following the shake-up, the council’s new administration now consists of a partnership between Independent, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and non-aligned members.

Mr Reid believes the report is a ‘condemnation’ of the brief SNP rule at the council.

He said: “The SNP won the council election last year and proved totally incapable of running the council. SNP Headquarters and Mike Russell MSP were constantly interfering. I’ve never heard of anything like this utter shambles happening anywhere else in the country.

“I’m pleased that Dick Walsh, Ellen Morton and other councillors have picked up the pieces after the SNP walked away from the mess they caused. The new administration have a tough job on their hands and I will offer them constructive support.” In response to the report, the new Leader of Argyll and Bute Council, Councillor Dick Walsh, said: “Obviously the Audit Scotland report makes for challenging reading. However, I am confident that Argyll and Bute Council can rise admirably to those challenges.

“There is now a sound, strong and stable administration in place. Everyone is very aware that there is work to be done. We are here to serve the people of Argyll and Bute, and that is our top priority. We can ensure that it remains our key focus by making sure that we take on board what is said in the report, and by working effectively in a positive way with council staff who provide essential services in our area.” Jackie Baillie MSP labeled report ‘damning’ and said people had been let down by the political uncertainty. She added: “It’s clear from the report that the recent four-month period of political turmoil has had a damaging effect on relationships within the council, putting public services at risk.

“It’s now time for the new administration to step up to the challenge and prove to residents that it can offer stability and focus on delivering council services.” The council’s Chief Executive, Sally Loudon said: “Our staff have continued to deliver quality, effective and efficient services to people across Argyll and Bute throughout the whole process, and I know that they are committed to doing so in the future.

“Everyone – elected members and officers – will be working hard together over the coming months so that Argyll and Bute Council continues to be an effective and improving organisation.”