Auditors have said they have ‘limited assurance’ over Northampton Borough Council’s performance in 2018/19.
New internal auditor BDO has gone through the authority’s processes and procedures with a fine tooth comb to identify areas to improve.
Although BDO admitted that the council was heading in an ‘upwards trajectory’ it still only offered ‘limited assurance’ about the governance currently in place, which is third in its four assurance levels, below ‘substantial’ and ‘moderate’, but above ‘no assurance’.
The update was discussed at the council’s audit committee on Monday (July 8) at The Guildhall, where BDO senior manager Gurpreet Dulay told councillors that NBC was the only council of those he had covered that he had awarded a ‘limited’ assurance, with the others all ranked ahead on ‘moderate’.
BDO carried out audits into ten separate areas of the council, and found that four were ‘limited’ and required significant improvement, which were cash handling, procurement, people, and the relationships between councillors and officers.
It picked up issues such as ‘a lack of compliance’ from some staff with council credit cards, and clearer communication needed on what the protocol was for councillors to attempt to influence officer decisions.
Mr Dulay said: “The council has gone through a lot of change, and this is probably not what the authority will want to hear. But the managers have directed us towards what they think the riskier areas are, and some councils don’t do that.
“If we did this in six months time, you might see a higher compliance rate. I think the trajectory is one of improvement as a new management structure is in place.
“This is the only authority that I cover that I have given a limited opinion, so it’s more of an exception.”
Auditors also picked up that improvements were needed on appraisal and exit survey processes, and contracts not being located for some suppliers during the procurement process.
And it found that of 50 recommendations to improve governance, which were due to be implemented by July, a staggering 80 per cent had not yet been completed.
The BDO report stated: “This is a very low completion rates and supports our view of a limited opinion over the governance, risk and control environment at the council.”
The report did, however, praise the more ‘robust scrutiny’ given to the £1.5million loan request from Northampton Saints, following the authority’s previous problems with its £10.25m loan to the Cobblers.
It added: “If the council continues its positive direction of travel then we would expect an improved internal audit opinion next year.”