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NO AUDIT EXEMPTION FOR WELSH COUNCILS

I READ with interest the letter and comment headed “Even exempt councils need internal audit” (Letters, July 2017) and note that there appear to be moves, in England at least, to make external audit unnecessary for very small councils with a meagre precept.

My own council in Wales has a precept of only £2,250, of which most goes in simple administration to comply with various rules and regulations. I would be interested to have details of this move in England away from external audit and whether this also applies to Wales. Any help you can give would be most welcome.

 Cllr David Unwin, Merthyr Mawr Community, Council, Mid Glamorgan

Paul Clayden writes: The requirements with regards to accounts in Wales are set out in the Accounts and Audit (Wales) Regulations 2014 and the joint One Voice Wales/SLCC publication Governance and Accountability for Local Councils in Wales: A Practitioner’s Guide 2011 (this may have been amended to take account of the 2014 Regulations). Both internal and external audits are required. There is no exemption from this, as there is in England for very small councils. Whether or not to introduce an exemption is a matter for the Welsh government

 Clerks & Councils Direct, September 2017


EVEN EXEMPT COUNCILS NEED INTERNAL AUDIT

AS a clerk to four smaller authorities (with less than £25,000 turnover), can you advise the position regarding internal audits? All the councils are going to declare themselves exempt and so remove the need for external audit from this financial year. Is an internal audit from an organisation such as the Northamptonshire County Association of Local Councils (NCALC) still needed, if the council adheres to the transparency code guidelines?

Claire Tilley, Clerk and RFO, Cranford Parish Council, Northamptonshire

Paul Clayden writes: An internal audit is still required. Guidance can be found in the NALC/SLCC publication Governance and Accountability for Smaller Authorities in England.

Clerks & Councils Direct, July 2017

CLARIFICATION NEEDED ON THE TRANSPARENCY CODE

THIS may be something that has been asked of Paul Clayden before on the vexed question of the Transparency Code and the ambiguous nature of its text, so I apologise for asking it again if that is the case.

The Transparency Code says in para 2 on the policy context, “Under the new audit framework smaller authorities including parish councils, internal drainage boards, charter trustees and port health authorities with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000 will be exempt from routine external audit. In place of routine audit, these smaller authorities will be subject to the new transparency requirements laid out in this code…”

Does this mean that if you continue with a routine external audit, as we have chosen to do, that we are not subject to the new transparency requirements in the same way? I am not suggesting that accounting and audit information should or would not be disclosed, given that under the external audit regime information was published or made available for inspection very much as it is now under the new transparency regime.

We have already aligned ourselves with the Code as you would expect and made documents available for inspection, as has always been the case. In my nine years as clerk nobody has asked to inspect them – apathy or contentment?

 John Firrell, Clerk, Litton Cheney Parish Council, Dorset

 Paul Clayden writes: I have re-read the Transparency Code and can find no exemption for councils with a turnover not exceeding £25,000 a year which opt for full audit. I therefore believe that Litton Cheney is subject to the Transparency Code.

 Clerks & Councils Direct, November 2016

DAMNING AUDIT REPORT FOR COUNCIL

MACHYNLLETH Town Council in Powys planned to hold an extraordinary meeting on 24 August to address problems identified in a damning report by auditors BDO, including a finding that it had failed to properly prepare its accounts for the last six financial years.

Another issue identified was the failure of former clerk John Parsons to reclaim VAT payments, which meant that the council lost out on £5,073 in 2011/12, equivalent to 2 per cent of its annual budget. The report said: “[He] failed to discharge his responsibilities in relation to the financial management of the council and failed to maintain proper accounting records.”

In addition, said BDO, the council should never have set up a bank account for local schoolgirl April Jones, who disappeared in October 2012. Mark Bridger was convicted of her murder in May 2013.

The council’s headquarters, Y Plas in Machynlleth, became a hub in the search for April, with people wanting to donate money. The council banked £71,663 of # donations before transferring it to a fund for the missing fi ve-year-old – but it did not have the authority to do this.

The report stated: “The council had no power to collect this money or to establish a bank account for its retention. … When people came into the office and gave them money they should not have accepted [it].”

BDO highlighted the “failures in governance arrangements and inadequacies in financial management and internal control” at the council, but said that the new clerk had “worked to improve internal controls and bring the accounts up to date”.

Clerks & Councils Direct, September 2016

THE FUTURE OF EXTERNAL AUDIT FOR SMALLER AUTHORITIES

Since the Audit Commission ceased to exist on the 1 April 2015 a new company – Smaller Authorities’ Audit Appointments Ltd - has been created to take over the appointment of external auditors and the setting of audit fees for smaller authorities from 2017.

For smaller authorities that wish to opt out the final deadline is 31 March 2016.

For more information visit: www.localaudits.co.uk

 

AUDIT ERROR

I WAS surprised to read your advice in the January issue (Letters) that a council with a turnover of up to £25,000 does not need an external audit. This is not true: the requirement to have an external audit does not cease until we get to the accounts for FY2017/18.

Peter Leppard, Clerk, Bamford with Thornhill Parish Council, Derbyshire

Paul Clayden writes: I agree with the correspondent and admit my error–apologies for the misunderstanding.

Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2016


COMPLYING WITH THE TRANSPARENCY CODE

I WAS very pleased to pick up your January issue and have spoken to neighbouring clerks in a similar position to me. I am also being inundated with emails asking me to apply for a grant to have our accounts audited, and saying that if we don’t provide the name of our accountant they will automatically appoint one for us.

Our parish has a precept of £2,425 and just four parish councillors, and we do not want the burden of administration of having our own website. So on the advice of Richmondshire District Council, which has a website for each individual parish council in the district, we now publicise the minutes of our six meetings a year, and in the minutes are stated all expenditures and every cheque written and approved. I have sent the name of the website and how to access it in writing to every household in the village. Am I right in thinking that I am complying with the Code?

Margaret Lowther Clerk, Dalton on Tees Parish Council, Darlington

Paul Clayden writes:
I think the only item in the Transparency Code not covered specifically is the publication of all items of expenditure exceeding £100. There has to be a separate list of the items, not part of the minutes, which is published annually not later than 1 July.

Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2016

DOES RETURN ERROR MEAN AN EXTERNAL AUDIT IS REQUIRED?

AS A regular reader of Paul Clayden’s articles on legal matters, I was interested to read in a recent issue (July 2015) the piece on “Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015”. With regards to transparency codes (England only), it refers to smaller councils with an annual turnover of under £25,000 being exempt from external audit.

My reason for raising this is that currently my parish council has an electorate of under 600 and five parish councillors, and in the past 12 years no elections to the council have taken place. The only income the parish receives is the annual precept of under £12,000, a very small amount of interest on funds held in the bank and the occasional grant or donation for specific purposes. No grant has exceeded £5,000.

Currently the council submits its annual return to accountants BDO – not a very efficient audit organisation – and pays the princely sum of £120 each year. This year, I made an error by forgetting to write in the minute number under the statement of governance. I was told that the number could be written in but would cost the council an extra £20 plus VAT, or I could have a statement with the accounts report of an error on the part of the clerk and the internal auditor. I chose the report, as this would cost the council nothing. Is it possible to advise me whether the council needs to have an external audit?

The council is also receiving pressure under the Transparency Code to apply for a grant for equipment to implement the Code by the local association – my question again is why? This council has all its minutes shown on the council website. It also has the minutes of the eight meetings held each year placed on a notice board, and any parishioner who feels the need to receive a copy of the minutes can do so either via email from the chairman or myself or for a small charge in the post.

Mrs R.R. Smith, Clerk, Old Alresford Parish Council, Hampshire

Paul Clayden writes: I can confirm that the council is not required to have an external audit, because its annual turnover does not exceed £25,000. The legal position is set out in the Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities, which can be downloaded from the website of the Department for Communities and Local Government. There is no requirement for the council to accept a grant towards implementing the Transparency Code; it is for the council to decide.

Clerks & Councils Direct, January 2016

 

 

NALC FUND WILL AID TRANSPARENCY

THE National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has launched a “transparency fund” to help small parish councils meet new audit and transparency rules. NALC has claimed credit for persuading the government to provide financial assistance to smaller parish councils to help them become web-enabled and comply with new rules on publishing information about their work and finances.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is investing £4.7 million in the fund over three years, and NALC will deliver funding on a county basis, working with county associations of local councils. Smaller parish councils spending less than £25,000 can now start applying for funding to move to online publishing of financial and other information, ensuring that they are accountable to local communities under the new Transparency Code and also making sure that they are up to speed in the digital age.

Clerks & Councils Direct, November 2015

 

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES RELATE TO THE AUDIT COMMISSION

THE AUDIT COMMISSION - GOODBYE TO ALL THAT

NOTHING becomes someone as much as at their time of passing and the Audit Commission has excelled itself as always in its pointless complaint that parish returns are not done as faultlessly as those of principal councils (see news story, p1, January 2015).

Quelle surprise! Districts and counties have dozens of functionaries available, spending their whole time in getting ready for or carrying out an audit. Most of local government spends more time accounting for various things than it spends actually doing them.

In contrast, many parishes have a part-time clerk working out of a shed or a spare bedroom. Even the bigger town councils can only spend so much time on the audit.

I have been present at a meeting when a person from the Audit Commission literally hopped up and down because someone had not written the council’s name at the top of one of the pages of a return or had signed slightly out of the area designated on the form. She was beside herself with self-justification, forgetting entirely the circumstances of the person she was bringing to book. Here is a proposal:

  • Make the audit documents into a useful indicator of a council’s financial well-being for the public to read and understand.
  • Make it quite clear what is required, preferably by sending suitable returns for each level of council financial turnover.
  • Make your mind up about what you want, and stop changing the rules every year.
  • Don’t be so idiotic about asset values – go for current market value rather than historic cost to know how much the civic insignia cost in 1884?).
  • Be kind and respectful to clerks who are not accountants, but are harassed officials with many duties to perform.

Personally I take great care to listen to any requirements our internal auditor has to suggest, because she or he often knows a great deal more about local councils than someone stuck in a tower block in London.

Richard Styles, Clerk, Ramsgate Town Council, Kent
 (in a personal capacity)
Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2015

CAUSE FOR CONCERN OVER AUDIT QUALITY

THE Audit Commission, in its final report before its abolition, has said that while financial reporting was consistently strong for most types of principal local authority in 2013/14, it found problems with a range of smaller bodies. Some 1,015 parish councils (11 per cent) received a qualified opinion on their 2013/14 annual return, compared with 8 per cent previously, according to the report.

Marcine Waterman, the Commission’s controller of audit, said: “Although 99 per cent of small bodies received an audit opinion by 30 September 2014, we have unfortunately seen a decline in the quality of reporting. This is significant as, although ‘small’, these bodies should not be overlooked. They include 9,637 parish councils and 122 internal drainage boards (IDBs), which spend around £500 million and £70 million of public money each year, respectively.”

There were 74 parish councils where auditors had qualified the opinion for three consecutive years, which the Commission said suggested systemic weaknesses in their financial management and governance arrangements that needed to be addressed locally.

By comparison, none of the 512 principal bodies had received a qualified audit opinion on their 2013/14 accounts, and only 14 councils and two police bodies had their arrangements for securing value for money (VFM) qualified.

Clerks & Councils Direct, January 2015

NEW RULES ON TRANSPARENCY

THE Local Audit and Accountability Act came into force at the end of January, paving the way for a new local audit framework. It marks the end of the Audit Commission, with the government claiming that the change would “sweep away the old top-down regime and offer greater responsibility and choice for local bodies”. It is also expected to save up to £1.2 billion.

The new legislation allows local people to veto excessive council tax rises and strengthens the publicity code for local authorities, in a move intended to protect local media from unfair competition from council freesheets. It also gives members of the public and the press the right to film and use social media at local government meetings.

All councils with an annual gross income of more than £6.5 million will be obliged to sign up to a legally binding transparency code, which replaces the previous voluntary code. Authorities will also be obliged to publish additional financial information, such as spending on corporate credit cards, and explain in more detail how money is raised from parking charges. More transparent information will be required on local authority contracts and tenders and on council-owned property assets.

Councillors’ individual voting records will also be made public, with councils required to publish details of how each councillor votes on budget decisions such as raising or freezing council tax.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said that the new regulations would increase transparency and accountability. He added: “This important new law will pass power down to people and replace old-fashioned bureaucracy with local choice and transparency.

“Councils need to make sensible savings to help freeze council tax and protect frontline services. Greater power for local government must go hand in hand with greater local transparency and local accountability. With voting decisions openly recorded and local referendums for excessive increases, council tax bills will no longer dodge local democracy.”

Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2014

 AUDITOR’S DAYS ARE NUMBERED

THE formal abolition of the Audit Commission came a step closer on 8 May 2013, with the announcement of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill in the Queen’s Speech. According to the government, the bill will save up to £1.2 billion of public money and will increase the accountability of councils and local authority quangos.

As well as abolishing the Commission and enforcing local arrangements for financial scrutiny, the bill will bring all local authority bodies into line with rules for triggering council tax referendums and will give legal status to the local authority publicity code. This would mean that bodies such as integrated transport authorities, the Environment Agency, National Parks Authorities, pensions authorities and joint waste disposal authorities that seek to impose levies higher than 2 per cent would require local approval.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said: “This government is reining in the quango state, saving taxpayers’ money and giving more power to local people. This Bill extends the government’s localism agenda – ensuring robust scrutiny of council spending, strengthening the role of direct democracy and protecting an independent free press.”

Clerks & Councils Direct, July 2013

AUDIT DEBATE: IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT…

I FEEL the indignant response in your January issue from Ms Shan Tedder to my earlier letter about being clerk to five parish councils requires a further reply!

Perhaps I should point out that after being clerk to a busy parish council for 25 years I do actually understand the job. Also since my retirement I have been a parish councillor. The three months referred to is from the end of the financial year until the deadline at the end of June and I consider this period should be long enough to cope with internal audit and the approval of councils, even if they do meet bi-monthly.

I have to say that I think it is frankly ridiculous to liken the Audit Commission to a “domineering headmaster” who bullies clerks; the Commission clearly has its own deadlines and cannot be expected to make special dispensations for clerks who can’t meet their deadlines because they are overstretched (i.e. taking on too many councils!). In my 25 years’ experience I had no problems whatsoever with the Audit Commission and in fact in any direct contact I had with them I always found them courteous, understanding and always ready to give helpful advice.

Disregarding the undisputed fact that clerks always work more than their contracted hours, it appears that Ms Tedder’s five councils must be very small if they only meet bi-monthly and the total number of hours for which she is contracted is 22. It follows therefore that the precepts involved must also be very small with the consequence that the accounts are probably uncomplicated, i.e. not requiring a great deal of time to complete before internal audit and approval by the councils concerned.

As for Ms Tedder’s assertion that it is “virtually impossible for someone to ... take over a clerk’s duties”, I would say that in 25 years I only missed two meetings but, because of the support of my chairman and councillors and my close working relationship with them, they coped pretty well without me. No one in this world is indispensable!

I don’t think I quite fit the description of a “sweet old clerk sitting knitting, damming (an interesting new word) the demon computer”, but admit that I was one of a dying breed. My job as clerk for my village was more than just a “career”. I was available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, but felt that the many unpaid hours I put in were my personal contribution to the community in which I am very lucky to live. Times change and, while I think it is very sad that parish clerks these days are rarely residents, with their invaluable local knowledge, I can see that doubling up with councils is inevitable. However, I still think that taking on five councils is just a step too far.

In this particular incident I am reminded of the saying “If you don’t like the heat, keep out of the kitchen!”

Mrs W Sparrow, Suffolk
Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2011

 

AT YOUR CONVENIENCE

MS SHAN Tedder holds a curious view of the world.

The Audit Commission – which audits more than 8,000 parish councils – has ‘a complete lack of understanding’ of the nature of a Clerk’s job whereas she, with five councils, does not. Ms Tedder carries so much information in her head – even though she is paid approximately the same as a cleaner in London – that it is “virtually impossible” to replace her. On those occasions when she is unavoidably absent from work, the Audit Commission, whose long-published deadlines she presumably fails to meet, is unsympathetic.

A more realistic view might be that the workings of the average parish council are relatively simple and that, with appropriate planning, they can in fact continue to be performed in the absence, planned or otherwise, of the normal incumbent. It would behove Ms Tedder to remember that it is the duty of her parish councils to organise themselves in a manner such that they can comply with the law, whether or not they find that convenient.

But is Ms Tedder paid too little for what she does? If, as she claims, she cannot count the number of hours she works as a clerk, how does she know that she works more hours than she is being paid for? Could it be that she is being paid too much?

Joseph Gabbott, Clerk
Eldersfield Parish Council, Worcestershire
Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2011

 

OUR FRIENDS AT THE AUDIT COMMISSION

I STRENUOUSLY endorse the criticism levied against the Audit Commission by Ms Tedder in her letter published in January’s edition of Clerks & Councils Direct.

Last year one of my parish councils was requested to send in its annual return by 13 May 2010. This is a small council with a precept of less than £8,000. We did not receive the return back from the Audit Commission until mid-November, following several enquiries as to its whereabouts from me. Echoing my colleague Ms Tedder’s words, definitely a very unnecessary timescale!

During one particular phone call with the Audit Commission I was told that the return had not yet been signed off as the auditor was “still” on holiday. What! For four months? When the return did come back, the auditor had completely failed to take account of an explanation I had provided and reported negatively without reference to this. So the return was sent back by me to be corrected by them.

At a seminar given by a representative of the Audit Commission in March 2010, I raised the subject of the ever-shortening deadlines for the audit timescale explaining the difficulties encountered by parish clerks in complying with this:

  • Many parish clerks work part-time, some alongside a full-time or other part-time working commitment; many work for several small parishes to make up their income and they may therefore have multiple accounts to complete and books and records to prepare for the internal audit prior to completion of their annual returns.
  • Many are home-based workers with other commitments e.g. family care, and do this work because it enables flexible part-time working. They are not able to commit to 24/7 night-on-day shift working patterns, otherwise they’d be out there along with Lord Sugar’s apprentices earning telephone number salaries.
  • No account is ever taken by the Audit Commission of the oft occurring Easter bank holidays during the period running up to the audit deadline, when there are no postal services for a period of four days and all post is held up in the system. Outstanding invoices/receipts and bank statements are thus subject to a delay in arriving and suppliers are not at work to chase any outstanding paperwork.
  • It is generally the case that a wait of up to two weeks can occur from year end before receiving the bank statement required to reconcile the accounts to the bank balance. I was told in no uncertain terms by the representative from the Audit Commission that, with internet banking, there was no reason why parish clerks could not sit down and do the accounts on 1 April! Despite banking with major high street retail banks, it has taken both my parishes months to sign up for internet banking, with manifold problems in registering and much legwork from me and signatory councillors all along the way. All this just to view a bank statement online.
  • With reference to the remark by the auditor referred to in the preceding paragraph in relation to 1 April, there is clearly no respect or indeed religious tolerance shown by the Audit Commission in that parish clerks may wish to enjoy the Easter break which often coincides with this date.
  • One of my councils meets only five times a year and we have had to rearrange our schedule of meetings to accommodate the meeting when the accounts are signed off. This was not a straightforward matter as it proved hard to secure the venue for the meetings.

Unsurprisingly, none of these explanations met with an understanding response. “Domineering headmaster” – Ms Tedder, I think you’ve let them off lightly!

The Audit Commission is due to bow out in 2012. Perhaps clerks and councils can work together to ensure that their successors not only understand the world of parish councils but also live in the real world.

Helen Connolly, Tattenhall, Cheshire
Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2011

 

FIVE JOBS – BUT SO MANY ADVANTAGES!

I WAS highly amused to be the subject of W Sparrow’s letter `Five jobs are too many` in your November issue.

Of the several subjects touched on in my letter, W Sparrow completely overlooked all of them and merely felt that my clerking for five parish councils was the root of the problem!

My point was that the date for parish councils to formally approve the Year End Accounts was June 30, 2010.

For many councils that hold bi-monthly meetings it meant the approval needed to take place in May when all parish councils hold two meetings (parish council and the residents annual meetings).

I make that five to six weeks (April 1 to mid- May) to have the accounts approved by the internal auditor, and to present the accounts for approval at the parish council meetings in May.

Thus not the three months W Sparrow claims. Possibly W Sparrow is not actually a clerk and therefore doesn’t quite understand the work involved.

Five to six weeks is a very tight and unnecessary timescale by anyone’s standards when set in conjunction with preparing for two meetings.

At no time has the Audit Commission ever explained why the Audit deadlines keep moving to a shorter and shorter timescale.

The Audit Commission is like a domineering headmaster, demanding end of year results, and we clerks await like quaking pupils for the necessary confirmation that we have passed!

W Sparrrow has also missed my point about clerks being absent from their duties through personal issues.

Whether you clerk for one or five councils, it is still virtually impossible for someone to step in and take over a clerk’s duties.

At any given time parish councils will have numerous matters in hand. We carry huge amounts of information in our heads – who on earth could step in?

When it is unavoidable that you must be absent from work, the Audit Commission unsympathetically threatens you with fines.

This is tantamount to bullying, and displays their complete lack of understanding of the nature of our job.

My contracted hours for five parish councils actually adds up to a mere 22 hours a week. Of course, (and I can visualise many clerks clucking in agreement) I probably work more hours than I am actually paid for as it is impossible to calculate a clerk’s job,

Last time I checked, a normal working week was 37.5 hours a week, so my hours would be regarded as a part-time job.

Gone are the days of sweet old clerks sitting knitting, damming the demon computer.

We are now highly skilled professionals who clerk as a career choice. Thus clerking for more than one parish council is the norm.

Consideration should be given to the advantages of a clerk who administrates for more than one parish council, especially if those parish councils share parish boundaries, and therefore common issues.

Also issues that have arisen for one parish council may later arise with another council.

The clerk will therefore already have much of the required information to hand, having previously dealt with a similar issue elsewhere.

There is a cost saving – five parish councils – one computer.

An easy networking system between fellow parish councils is created.

The advantages are numerous.

So W Sparrow: is five jobs too many? NO, and I am astonished you think it is.

Shan Tedder (Ms), Downham Market, Norfolk
Clerks & Councils Direct, January 2011

 

UNITED WE STAND AGAINST THE COMMISSION!

I AM glad to see in Clerks & Councils Direct that there are finally others who wish to protest about the Audit Commission timetable.

I am clerk to five parish councils and have previously found the Audit Commission’s early dates rather taxing.

This year, due to family illness, it was impossible to adhere to the June 30 deadline.

Most of my councils meet bi-monthly, so I would have been required to present this matter at the annual parish council in May, but this is a double meeting with the holding of the annual residents’ meeting.

The combination of dealing with parish matters, the legally required online annual employers’ return, etc, and attending to a family member, I am afraid there were not enough hours in the day.

I have previously raised this matter with the Audit Commission, to no avail, and will be most interested this year to see their stance on the non-compliance of the June 30 deadline.

Also I have had huge battles with our borough council sending threatening letters over unpaid invoices when the invoices have arrived shortly after a meeting, and have to wait two months until the next meeting for authorisation of payment.

I have patiently, and then not so patiently, pointed out to our borough council that all payments must be authorised at full council meetings, and wasting money on sending constant reminders and threats does not change that regulation. Again, it falls on deaf ears.

I totally agree in a mass protest to the Audit Commission. We clerks need to stand up for ourselves against faceless massive organisations employing hundreds of staff who have absolutely no conception of our working conditions.

There is still nothing to stop us ALL still sending a standardised complaint to the Audit Commission, for example:

‘I … (name), Clerk to… Parish Council wish to formally protest at the current Audit Commission timescale in which the annual return must be completed. I request that the timescale be returned to its former schedule.’

At best we may get something done, at worst I, for one, will enjoy the Audit Commission being pressurised to respond to (hopefully) a large amount of correspondence within the legal response time!

Shan Tedder (Ms), Downham Market, Norfolk
Clerks & Councils Direct, September 2010

 

CLERKS ARE MISSING THE POINT

I FEEL that recent correspondence from clerks regarding the Audit Commission and the timescales of the annual audit misses the point.

No internal audit can be completed until the bank statements, building society statements etc, which incorporate the bank balances as at March 31, have been received.

This prevents a bank reconciliation being completed (a bank reconciliation has to accompany the return to the Audit Commission).

The internal audit has to be discussed and agreed for submission to external audit at a full parish council meeting.

So to follow the Audit Commission’s own rules and regulations, it is very unlikely that submissions for external audit can be sent much before the end of April at the earliest.

All a clerk has to do is gently remind the Audit Commission of its requirements and set a date when the external audit will be submitted

You can do this by phone, letter, fax or email. You won’t get penalised!

Graham E Taylor, BSc (Hons) CiLCA, MILCM,Clerk,
Ockbrook and Borrowash Parish Council,Derbyshire
Clerks & Councils Direct, September 2010

 

MISSED DEADLINE NOT A PROBLEM

I’M pretty certain that the legislation hasn’t changed and while the Audit Commission can ask councils to submit accounts early I don’t believe it can force them to do so as the legal deadline is June 30.

Boxley Parish Council, due to its meeting dates and standing orders, cannot meet its deadline so every year I ring or e-mail the Audit Commission and tell them I can’t and arrange to get them submitted later (but still before June 30). I’ve never had a problem and never come across the arrogance that has been referred to.

But it would be nice if next year they work to the date that they know I can meet and save me the phone call.

Pauline Bowdery,Clerk, Boxley Parish Council, Kent
Clerks & Councils Direct, September 2010

 

SLEDGEHAMMER TO CRACK A NUT

THE deadline imposed by the Audit Commission was unreasonable this year but we were granted an extension.

However, our RFO was advised ‘not to ask next year’.

Having noted in Clerks & Councils Direct that other parish councils were having similar difficulties, we asked our local association for help.

It seems that the Audit Commission is unaware that many clerks work from home for minimum hours and for minimum wages. Perhaps a case of wielding a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Jean White, Clerk, Audlem Parish Council, Cheshire.
Clerks & Councils Direct, September 2010

 

THE RIGHT TO ASK FOR A DATE DELAY

I BEG to point out to Richard Mole, Clerk to Foston-on-the-Wolds Parish Council, (Letters, July edition) and any other clerk who objects to the ever-earlier dates being requested by Audit Commission auditors for the external audit that the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2003, Section 10 (3) (a) states that:

“the statement of accounts as required by regulation 7(1) or regulation 7(6), as the case may be, shall be approved by a resolution of a committee of the relevant body or otherwise by a resolution of the members of the body meeting as a whole, such approval to take place as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event before June 30 immediately following the end of a year,...”

It would therefore appear to me that a local council has the right to request that the date called for the external audit (if that date is before June 30) be delayed if the council has not approved the accounts for the previous year.

Barrie Woodcock, Clerk, Whitwell Parish Council, Derbyshire
Clerks & Councils Direct, September 2010

 

ARROGANCE FROM THE COMMISSION

I RESPOND to the letter from the Clerk of Rudston Parish Council (May issue).

We have experienced exactly the same arrogance from the Audit Commission relating to dates for the annual audit. There must be some assumption that we all work full time on our respective parish councils and have nothing better to do than respond slavishly to their unreasonable demands.

Such was the imposition of dates this year that we had to have all the accounts finished, including the internal audit, to present to the parish council meeting of April 7.

In response, I took the option offered in the covering letter from the Audit Commission to inform them ‘at the earliest opportunity’ that I could not fulfil their response times to have the audit back with them by May 5, 2010.

I also mentioned in my letter that it would be courteous to consult us when the dates are decided upon. It was no surprise to me that I received no reply. Indeed, for that I was grateful, as in my experience any dialogue with this august body terminates in additional unreasonable and excessive charges.

We duly had our meeting on May 5, having completed the internal audit on April 14 thanks to yet another kind and responsive parish elector who freely gave their time at no cost to the parish.

Whether we have escaped some hideous penalty or not for the above actions only time will tell. I suspect that, if the Audit Commission troubles itself to read these submissions, the accounts of Foston on the Wolds will be scrutinised to such a degree as to ensure failings in presentation that will incur further financial consequence.

Clearly, if we were an accredited Quality Council, we would be able to overcome such shortcomings.....

Richard L Mole, Clerk,
Foston on the Wolds Parish Council, East Riding of Yorkshire
Clerks & Councils Direct, July 2010

 

HOW ABOUT A MASS PROTEST!

I AGREE wholeheartedly with Mr Phillip Crossland of Ruston Parish Council (May issue) regarding the impossible time table set by the Audit Commission.

Our parish is very small and the books may be viewed at a private residence, but no consideration has been given to the incidence of Bank Holidays by the Commission.

I, too, have pleaded with the Commission to no avail, and cannot understand why the dates have been moved forward from August to May. Surely all parish councils are bound to have the same problem and I feel it is totally unfair to ask clerks to produce final figures in the time scale given – totally unworkable.

Would a mass protest be possible?

Mrs Kathy Benn MBE,
Clerk, Manley Parish Council, Cheshire
Clerks & Councils Direct, July 2010

 YOU COULDN’T MAKE IT UP!

CRAVEN District Council (CDC hereon) is extremely inefficient. That’s the opinion of the Audit Commission, which rated CDC 1 out of 4 for its financial management over the past two years.

Craven Ratepayers’ Action Group (CRAG) was founded several years ago by a local JP (let’s call him ‘A’). Its aim was to draw public attention to CDC’s shortcomings.

Time passed and ‘A’ became a village parish councillor and within a year was elected council chairman.

A few months later CDC levelled two specific complaints against ‘A’, leading to a nightmarish scenario that Kafka himself might have conceived.

Conscious of his vulnerability as a former public critic of CDC, ‘A’ requested that CDC’s investigation be carried out by an independent third party.

This was ignored and a former council officer appointed as investigating agent. The investigation commenced over a year ago and remains ongoing.

Ten months after commencement, the investigator finally decided to interview ‘A’ and his recorded interview took place in the presence of an independent witness. The investigator undertook to supply ‘A’ with a copy of the recording.

Almost a month elapsed before ‘A’ received his copy, along with an acknowledgement that it was 30 minutes shorter than the actual interview.

Whereupon ‘A’ commissioned an independent professional examination of the recording, which concluded it had been edited.

CDC’s reaction to this serious allegation was bizarre. Instead of requesting a copy of the suspect recording, CDC demanded that ‘A’ withdraw his ‘unfounded allegations’.

CDC’s investigator retaliated with a fatuous counter-complaint: that the parish council’s draft minutes of April 2009 differed from the council’s adopted minutes!

This accusation was promptly accepted by CDC, whose next step was to appoint an investigator … the complainant herself!

Kafka – eat your heart out!

Editor’s note: Franz Kafka was one of the most influential fiction writers of the early 20th century, renowned for his satirisation of democracy.

Alan Perrow,
Cowling, North Yorkshire.
Clerks & Councils Direct, July 2010

 

AUDIT DATES UNWORKABLE!

I WONDERED whether other clerks have had trouble in adhering to audit dates this year as stipulated by the Audit Commission?

In my case, the ‘available to view’ date for the accounts was given as April 5, which being Easter Monday, only left one official working day after March 31. Thinking it unfair that I should be asked to produce final figures in that short time – although able to work on them over the holiday myself, I could not guarantee receipt of bank statements for example – I queried the dates with the Audit office.

I was told that the dates given were not open to negotiation and that the internal audit would have to be performed before the end of March without final figures. Like me, our internal auditor thought this a little unusual, but I pencilled in interim totals and he ‘did his best’.

Quite apart from being unfinished, the books in small parishes like ours have to be made available to view at a private residence, currently that of my chairman in the village, but should they be expected to be available on a Bank Holiday in any case?

Though nobody has yet taken up the opportunity to view since this system began, that position may change at any time. Incidentally, I take that as a sign of complete trust by residents in the workings of the parish council and myself

Fortunately, we have a monthly village newsletter and I was able to make residents aware of the situation with the warning that the books may not be available strictly to the dates given on the printed notice which I had already posted on the notice board.

These Audit dates have been moving progressively forward over the last few years, but have now reached a point where they are simply unworkable.

Phillip Crossland, Clerk,
Ruston Parish Council,East Yorkshire.
Clerks & Councils Direct, May 2010



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