We’ve been sent an extract from the latest edition of Private Eye:
Now, we’ve listened to a recording of the audit meeting. However, we’ve not detected some of the ‘facts’ reported above. Certainly, the auditors said that the value placed on the mall in March 2019 (the end of the audit period) was ‘toppy’ and ‘fairly aggressive’. Although it was not necessarily wrong, a more cautious figure would, indeed, be £23 million lower. And, at the time of the meeting just over a year later, the situation would look ‘horrific’. However, the figure of £66 million almost certainly comes from a different source than the recording. Nor does the recording really indicate that councillors were ‘aghast’.
What Private Eye has completely failed to report is the appalling quality of the accounting skills of the council. The number of errors in the draft accounts meant that the auditor had to devote two and a half times more effort than budgetted to process the data. The activity had been ‘painful and protracted’. In comparison to ‘normal’ councils, Surrey Heath’s performance was said to be in the ‘lower quartile’.
One councillor strongly urged that the audit report – which was already finalised – should emphase the failure of management controls in the matter of the previous chief executive’s ‘additional duties allowance’. But what struck us was that the previous chief executive was responsible for the quality and performance of the staff under her. If she had concentrated less on her own finances, and more on ensuring the council’s competence, the audit meeting might not have had to listen to such a woeful story.