The Council received correspondence from the External Auditors PKF Littlejohns earlier this week in relation to the objections raised against the accounts for 2013/14. Assuming there are no appeals made (within 28 days), the auditors are able to sign off the 2013/14 and 2014/15 accounts and will not be issuing another Public Interest Report as requested by the objectors due to:
- Significant improvements in its internal control procedures and in its compliance in its financial regulations
- Having regards to the cessation of trading at the Civic Centre
- Changes in personnel amongst the Council Officers and the appointment of a new Responsible Finance Officer
- Implementation of the action plan drawn up to implement the recommendations contained within the PIR
- Reports by the Councils internal auditors
- Representations from the Council including a copy of its current asset register policy and register
The objections referred to (summary):
1. The Council acting outside its legal powers in conducting trading activity in the Civic Centre for the Café, Bar and Catering Services, police museum/forensic science centre and gift shop.
2. Monies paid from the public purse by Keighley Town Council to Turner & Wall solicitors for a private defamation claim brought by a former member of staff, M E Bailey the Councils Town Clerk and Responsible Finance Officer against a third party. It was the value of £912 and most of the payment related to 2013/14 financial year.
3. Trading powers as the Council did not have the power to trade as it did not have the General Power of Competence under the localism Act 2011. Payment for the Civic Centre do not appear to have any authorisation by individuals on invoices and that much of the spending had no authorisation or budget.
4. Monies paid to a firm of solicitors for a private defamation claim brought by the then clerk against a third party. Bulk of the invoice has been allocated to the 2013/14 year of account.
5. Methods of recording income and expenditure for goods and services and cash takings, making the prevention and detection of fraud difficult.
6. A ‘large number of assets not appearing in the Councils asset register and contend that that assets purchased in the year are highly moveable’.
7. Expenditure on additional storage space acquired by the Council and made available to the Keighley and History Society initially free of charge. It was contended that this is unnecessary given the availability of space in the Councils Civic Centre and that no formal contract exists with the History Society.
The Council will be provided with copies of the statement of reasons which were provided to the objectors earlier this week and a copy given to the Council. The Council will be asked to consider at it’s next meeting in April, the contents of the statement of reasons in particular to two objectors that raised the same objection against the defamation costs incurred by a former Clerk. The auditor PKF Littlejohn has stated in their documents ‘It is our view that the Council should consider and take advice on whether the payment was unlawful and further consider whether an attempt for recovery should be made’. ‘The Council however at the time did approve the payment retrospectively by resolution of the Finance and Audit committee (minute dated 11 June 2014).
Town Mayors Comments (Cllr J Akhtar): ‘I am pleased that the auditors are content with the actions and progress made by Keighley Town Council since the issue of the Public Interest Report on 5 November 2014. The closure of the Civic Centre has contributed to much of the uncertainly of legal issues surrounding the trading which in the Auditors opinion was unlawful.
I would like to thank the previous Council leadership and Senior Officers, Mr Thomas Ferry (who was in post at the time) and Ms Safia Kauser (currently in post as Town Clerk/RFO) in assisting in the closure of all trading activities which ceased on 31 March 2015. The recommendations were addressed and implemented via an audit action plan as well a change of culture introduced by the new staff in post in particular the appointment of a new Responsible Financial Officer.
Under my Chairmanship, what has proven to be a difficult year, I would also like to thank my fellow colleagues for assisting in the positive changes made since May 2015. I can confidently say that we are ensuring that the errors of the past are not repeated. The Councillors are working in close collaboration with the office and adhering to the Councils policies and procedures which has led to the Council being more accountable and transparent to the electorate. Ultimately I believe that the Council has taken greats strides forward in what has been a transitional year and I ask that the Council is given time and support to rebuild especially at a time where we will be launching a Public Consultation to determine the future of the Civic Centre’.
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