After more than a year of delays and a huge cost increase, Northampton Borough Council is finally set to sign off its 2016-17 accounts later this month.
It is set to bring to an end a challenging period where the council and auditors KPMG have faced multiple hurdles in a bid to finally close the balance sheet from two years ago.
But the delays have come at a cost. In December, it was revealed that the bill had increased from an original £80,000 to standing at £280,000 at the end of November. The bill could feasibly be as high as £400,000 by the end of January councillors were told.
At last though, members of the borough council’s audit committee look set to finally sign off the accounts at its next meeting on January 28.
Councillor Brandon Eldred, cabinet member for finance, said: “This has regrettably been a protracted exercise and taken much longer to complete than any of us would have liked.
“It is important for the residents and businesses to know that this delay in finalising our accounts is around technical accounting and presentation issues, not the financial stability of, or financial controls within the council.”
The delays stem back to an error where an ‘incorrect methodology’ was used by the council’s external valuers Bruton Knowles to estimate the value of council dwellings. KPMG says that by using an ‘incorrect’ Social Housing discount factor, the authority understated the value of its council dwellings by £121.7million.
Matters have also been complicated by ‘staff churn’, according to chief finance officer Stuart McGregor, with the council needing to use further agency staff while LGSS Finance launched a recruitment campaign to woo permanent staff who can help with audits.
Councillor Eldred continued: “The process has been hampered by turnover of both our staff and those at LGSS – our financial service provider. We’ve learned lessons and made improvements as a result of the experience.
“I’m pleased that we are now reaching a conclusion on this very challenging exercise and I’d like to thank all those involved for their perseverance and hard work.”