Further delays will see council accounts not signed off until New Year

Delays over several months have prevented the accounts from being submitted at The Guildhall
Delays over several months have prevented the accounts from being submitted at The Guildhall

Attempts to sign off Northampton Borough Council’s set of accounts have been hit by further delays.

The authority has yet to finalise its accounts for the financial year 2016/17, and has missed a series of deadlines since first seeing a draft statement in September 2017.

Now a new deadline of January 2019 has been set for finally ending what the council admits has been a ‘regrettable’ episode.

The cost of the audit by KPMG, which was originally supposed to be £75k, had skyrocketed to double the price at £150k back in June. It is expected to have continued to rise since then, although no current figure has been made public.

In a report to be discussed at an audit committee of councillors on November 26, the council’s recently appointed chief finance officer Stuart McGregor writes: “It is important to provide assurance to the residents and stakeholders that the issue is not around the management of finances, the funding of services and has no impact on current budgets or plans. The issues ultimately are around the presentation of information in a form required by Cipfa and Government.”

The delays are down to an external valuation firm adopting a different adjustment factor for the valuation of assets. An internal report from LGSS states that ‘all necessary revaluations of commercial properties have been completed’, with the changes now applied to the accounts.

External auditor KPMG adds: “The authority was undertaking actions to correct the valuation of council dwellings due to the errors, including use of an incorrect methodology, which had resulted in materially incorrect valuations.

“This work was commissioned on August 2, 2018 with the expectation it would take a few weeks to complete. The work took longer than expected and was only completed during September 2018. This has had a knock-on effect on our ability to close off this area from an audit perspective.”

But chief finance officer Mr McGregor believes there have been ‘a number of improvements’ as a result of the issues, which he states will lead to a ‘faster, cleaner closedown’ of the 2017/18 accounts.

Among other reasons blamed for the delay was a ‘staff churn’ with experienced workers leaving the authority. And Mr McGregor admitted that although LGSS Finance had launched a recruitment campaign, there would be a ‘likely need’ to make use of agency staff until permanent appointments could begin their posts.