Controversial Northamptonshire County Council accounts sign-off almost a year overdue

A meeting earlier today heard it was 'disappointing'.
A meeting earlier today heard it was 'disappointing'.

Almost 12 months after the original due date the sign-off of the controversial accounts from Northamptonshire County Council’s annus horribilis have still not been agreed with auditors.

KPMG still does not have the final accounts from the ‘fragile’ county council for the financial year 2017/18 and has twice sent back the ‘final version’ to the authority because of errors.

These are the accounts that catapulted the authority into world headlines as it had overspent by more than £40m, had to bring in emergency spending control and the Government sent in two commissioners to oversee the authority.

But more than a year after the financial collapse the final accounts have still not been agreed with auditors. They should have been signed off in July last year. The final figure will not be in the red as the Government gave the council special dispensation to use funds from the sale of One Angel Square to plug the gap.

At this morning’s (June 18) audit committee at One Angel Square in Northampton, independent chair Bill Jessup said the situation was ‘very disappointing’.

He said: “I think what is particularly disappointing is that we seem to have a set of accounts that are supposed to be final that have some very basic errors in, in that they didn’t add up.”

KPMG auditor Daniel Hayward said issues that had also been holding up the accounts included an issue with capital grants and the valuation of One Angel Square – which has since been downvalued by £5m.

He said the auditors would try to report by July 30 but said: “We don’t want to put our name to a final set of accounts that have errors in.”

The ‘final’ accounts given to the auditors by the council last Tuesday have since been withdrawn for more work to be done.

Head of finance John Lee, who works for LGSS, the shared service that provides the accounting team for NCC as well as other authorities, defended his team.

He said: “I would like to make an observation that the authority has never responded to the fact this is a high risk audit and we have a small team.”

The responsibility for the accounts lies with the council’s chief finance officer Ian Duncan, who also said it was ‘disappointing’ the accounts were still not ready. He also told the meeting

LGSS was under review and it was clear that the current system was not working.

Mr Hayward said the council used to have a specific team of five or six finance officers whose job was to respond to queries from themselves during the audit period but this team is now much smaller.

The timetable to have the audit ready for July 30 has now been affected because of the council’s delay and KPMG has said the council’s officers will have to bear the brunt.

It is anticipated there will be 20 recommendations from the accounts which Mr Hayward said are largely around issues of governance and controls.

The publishing of the 2018/19 accounts have also been impacted by the lateness of the previous year’s accounts.

The council has not been able to publish them on May 31 as guidelines dictate. It says they will be published ‘as soon as possible’.

Sarah Ward, Local Democracy Reporting Service