A Sorry State of Affairs
By Cllr Ian Marks - Finance spokesperson
Liberal Democrats say the delay in signing off the 2017/18 Accounts has been a sorry state of affairs and no-one has come out of it well.
The report to the Council's Audit and Corporate Governance Committee by the External Auditors, Grant Thornton, acknowledged that even now there are still outstanding issues preventing completion.
There are many reasons for these delays. Right from the start we opposed the controversial and risky investments in Redwood Bank and Together Energy which have led to numerous problems. To fund essential services, we have supported income generating investments connected with regeneration in the town, housing and solar farms but have been uneasy with some of the out-of-town commercial investments. National Government has not helped by a lack of clarity on what kind of investments are permissible.
We have the strange situation that what the Council has done after the end of 2018 has an impact on the audit for 2017/18. Changes to accounting standards since the year end has also forced time consuming retrospective adjustments to be made. Grant Thornton acknowledges that the Council has taken independent Queen's Counsel legal advice and accounting and tax advice. The Auditors too have taken independent legal advice but the problem is that the sets of experts have come to different conclusions about the rights and wrongs, so there has been a stand-off.
An adverse Value for Money statement from Grant Thornton is unwelcome even though it applies to four years ago. No one comes out of this well and reputations have suffered. The Conservatives have never told us how they would have done things differently to safeguard services in the face of sustained government cuts. There has been a large cost to Council Tax payers and we must ensure nothing like this ever happens again.