'Angst and frustration' after delays closing off council accounts

The borough council still hasn't had its latest set of accounts signed off by auditors
The borough council still hasn't had its latest set of accounts signed off by auditors

There is ‘angst and frustration’ among staff that Northampton Borough Council has failed to sign off its latest set of accounts.

The council is set to miss its latest deadline of the end of August to close the accounts, capping another month of frustration for the authority.

The problem in closing the 2016/17 accounts stems not from financial problems, but by a failure to process property values using a correct formula that is recognised by the government.

In his latest council paper for the upcoming audit committee of September 4, chief finance officer Stuart McGregor writes: “The issues that have arisen have tested staff within LGSS Finance and relationships between NBC (as the accountable body), LGSS (as its provider of financial services) and KPMG (External Auditor).

“There is an angst and frustration from all parties, that at each stage of progress, from June 2017, issues have unwound previous work and required rework, in some cases several times.”

A ‘churn of staff’ and use of interim officers has also led to a ‘knowledge gap’ where new officers are trying to catch up with the causes for the delay.

It appears this churn will continue for the foreseeable future too, as a key senior LGSS NBC Business partner left at the end of August, and the current lead officer for LGSS NBC closedown is due to leave in October 2018 and ‘likely to be backfilled by an interim manager who will progress the 2017-18 Statement of Accounts’.

Mr McGregor adds: “Having monitored progress since February 2018, it is clear there is no single factor that can be identified as the root cause of the problem, but a constant flow of what would individually have been minor issues has, in this ‘high risk’ audit environment led to cumulative problems and system weaknesses.”

The borough council though believes that ‘lessons have been learned and improvements made to the processes and data’ ahead of producing the 2017/18 Statement of Accounts.