To receive a verbal update from the external auditors.
Contact Officer: Nuala Donnelly (01296) 585164
The Committee was advised that the draft accounts for 2018/19 had been completed by the finance team by the deadline of 31 May,2019. They had been published on the Council’s website and were available therefore for public inspection. The target date for publishing the final accounts was 31 July, 2019. However, the Council would be unable to meet this deadline because the external auditors (Ernst and Young) had advised that they could not support an audit to meet this timetable. The audit had been postponed until September.
At a meeting with a representative of the external auditors and the Chief Executive of the PSAA, attended by the Chairman of this Committee, it had been stated that the external auditors did not have enough qualified staff and that the quality of the audit rather than the need to meet the deadline was more important. Other local authority Audit Committee Chairmen and finance officers had been present at this meeting. The Council was one of 19 local authorities (including those in Buckinghamshire) affected by the delay. The external auditors had indicated that 31 job offers had been made, but Members appreciated that this was no guarantee that all would be taken up.
The Chairman of this Committee had expressed disappointment with this situation which was felt to be unacceptable, given that the external auditors had had enough time to assess their capacity when tendering their services to all the local authorities to which they had been appointed external auditors. The external auditors had been asked to provide a form of wording that could accompany the final (unaudited) accounts when published in July. It was indicated that the audit had now been arranged to take place from 2 to 28 September, 2019. This had meant that there was now a need to rearrange the previously diarised meetings of this Committee, and Members expressed their thanks to the finance team for organising their annual leave arrangements in a flexible manner in order to accommodate the new timetable.
The Chairman (supported by Members of the Committee) expressed his disappointment at the lack of customer engagement and insight shown by the external auditors and the PSAA in relation to the operational/reputational impact of the delay on the affected local authorities. It had become clear at the meeting referred to above that no consideration had been given to local factors such as the transition to a single authority for Buckinghamshire. The meeting had also expressed disappointment at the fact that the local authorities affected had not been given an opportunity to comment on the delay and the fact that they had not been offered any flexibility. The issue of financial compensation had been raised but the only response from the PSAA had been that the affected local authorities could challenge the fees. It was reported that subsequently, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government had announced that he would be instigating a review of local authority audit arrangements.
Members had no option but to
That the current position be noted.