Damning audit reports into finances could cost Slough council thousands

James Bagley. Local Democracy Reporter

Damning audit reports into finances could cost Slough council thousands

The delayed damning audit reports could cost Slough Borough Council hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees.

Councillors on the audit and corporate governance committee called for an extraordinary meeting following the two damning reports on the council’s 2018/19 accounts by external auditors Grant Thornton UK LLP, criticising the local authority’s financial governance.

In the auditor’s reports, they found:

  • Insufficient capacity and skills within the finance department
  • Inadequate preparation of financial statements
  • Inadequate general and earmarked revenue reserves
  • Inadequate governance, monitoring and controls over our outside groups and companies

At the extraordinary meeting, Julie Masci, Grant Thornton’s associate director, said since the two 2018/19 audit reports have been delayed and ‘considerable’ additional work has had to be put into the reports, it could cost the council an estimated £450,000.

Steven Mair, who has been recommended to become the council’s new associate director of finance, said it will ‘take time’ to make improvements identified in the auditor’s reports but has planned how they will tackle these issues.

He said the council has pulled a team of ‘leading experts’ of accountancy and finance to scrutinise usable reserves, introducing training and development to ‘upskill’ staff to improve the quality of financial statements, and setting a ‘standard of excellence’ to change culture within the organisation.

Mr Mair said he will update the committee on a quarterly basis from October to see progress on the changes needed.

Independent co-opted member of the committee, Iqbal Zaffar, said this was the 'worst report' he has ever seen and asked what steps have been taken to make those accountable.

Josie Wragg, chief executive of the council, said a new financial officer, Steven Mair, will be appointed following the resignation of the previous associate director Neil Wilcox, who left the local authority in April 2021 'to spend more time with his family'.

The leader of the opposing Conservatives, Cllr Wayne Strutton (Haymill and Lynch Hill) asked when the audits came to the council as he found it ‘interesting’ this was made public after the local elections where Slough Labour won the majority.

Mr Mair said the final audit findings report came in on May 9 and another arrived the next day.

In February, the council requested from the government a capitalisation directive of £12.2 million, which would allow them to sell some of their assets in order to plug a £10 million hole in their finances.

The leader of the council, councillor James Swindlehurst (Lab: Cippneham Green), said it would be ‘foolish’ to sell the out-of-borough assets, such as the Odeon in Basingstoke, as they bring in the income.

He said: “The asset base we would look to liquidate will be assets that don’t have that income potential associated with it, at least because we are actively using that revenue in our day-to-day budget and it would just make our revenue problems worst if we sold revenue-generating assets.”

The meeting was plagued with technical issues and couldn’t live-stream the committee, which caused anger on Twitter.

The council said they are not obliged to live-stream the meeting but have recorded it and it is on the council’s website.
 

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