Brentwood audit fine ‘shows leaders were clueless’
�The chairman of Brentwood Council’s audit committee has said that the council has saved money on the auditing of its accounts this year – despite having to pay �77,000 extra after they were signed off late.
Cllr Chris Hossack (Conservative, Hutton East) said that the council has made significant savings “in the round” and that it is now in a stronger position for next year.
But the leader of the opposition group has called into question council leadership on the issue.
As revealed in the Recorder in October, the Audit Commission said that parts of the council’s 2010/11 accounts were not in the correct format and the council didn’t supply them with the information needed.
Cllr Hossack said that despite the �77,450 extra fee, the council is making progress because the overall cost of the audit is down on last year.
He said: “The bottom line is that, in the round we spent less money (on auditing) this year than we did last year – �51,000.”
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A “post-mortem” report on the failure to sign the accounts off on time was discussed at a closed meeting on Tuesday night. It was made publicly available afterwards.
Lib Dem leader Cllr David Kendall (Pilgrims Hatch) said: “The extra fee was �77,000, which is more than the council had budgeted for the audit this year.
“The sign-off fee was more than last year.
“That’s money that could have been spent on providing services for Brentwood residents rather than lining the auditor’s pockets.
“The report is worrying, and it suggests that the leadership didn’t have a clue about what was going on.”
Cllr Hossack said: “We were overconfident about being able to close the accounts within the timeframe.
“We have an antiquated system which meant that when questions were coming back from the Audit Commission we over ran.
“But it was a decision we took to continue with the audit properly so our finances are good enough when we merge them with Essex County Council’s.”
Minutes from Tuesday’s meeting show that councillors raised questions about why the council spent �250,000 on interim staff who weren’t capable of producing accounts in the correct format.
A reply stated that historical problems with Brentwood’s accounts meant that the council couldn’t work in the new accounting format until it was too late.