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Internal audit helps local councils – fact or fiction?

Fact: Internal audit is an aid to management (clerk/RFO/councillor)
Fiction: Internal audit is a threat to management

While some clerks dread the internal audit at Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR) time, many welcome the opportunity to ensure that processes and procedures are operating properly with all current good practices.
Internal audit is at the “coal face” end, checking prime documents at the source stage, whereas external audit is a remote overview of figures and explanations. The two audits complement each other, providing assurance to the public that local councils are operating efficiently and effectively, while utilising their council tax precepts both transparently and accurately.
Yes, the internal auditor is checking the records to see that good practices are operating, thus ensuring financial accuracy and transparency. No, the internal auditor is not trying to catch anyone out, unless of course anyone is attempting to defraud the council.
Clerks can use the audit visit to ensure that they are fully updated on their processes and procedures. Ask the auditor if certain aspects are being performed properly or if there is a better way. If the internal auditor reviews several local councils, they will already have sound knowledge of common financial software and spreadsheet problems that have been satisfactorily resolved elsewhere. Why re-invent the wheel?
At AGAR time, the clerk can refer to the latest guidelines on governance and accountability, which are contained in the latest Practitioners’ Guide issued annually by the Joint Panel on Accountability and Governance (JPA), the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) and the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC). This provides a wealth of information on how to complete the AGAR forms correctly, while giving reasons for certain aspects required. These guidelines provide clerks with methods to operate with good governance, transparency and compliance.
Many councils will be under the £25,000 threshold (the higher of receipts or payments) and thus not subject to a mandatory external audit (a saving of £210 +VAT, as per the current five-year fee scale). However, all councils are subject to an annual internal audit. The auditors must be competent, totally independent and preferably well versed in the local council sector. When selecting an internal auditor for a medium or larger council, consideration should be given to whether the firm or individual has professional indemnity insurance. This gives added assurance for the council.
Clerks can often get recommendations from fellow clerks when selecting a new internal auditor. Since September 2022, a new Internal Audit Forum has been in existence, which provides local councils with online access to lists of internal auditors, operating across all the counties of England and Wales:
Once an auditor has been chosen, a letter of engagement should be issued detailing the expected number of visits, scope of the audit and reporting frequency.
Many smaller parish audits (including of councils that are self-certificating) will be conducted via an annual visit or remote access to records. However, for medium and larger councils the use of interim audits during the financial year, with a final AGAR audit, is very useful. The advantage for the clerk/RFO and councillors is that it gives them assurance that processes and all bank reconciliations are accurate at various points in the year, and any minor errors (e.g. miscodings or correct VAT not noted for reclaim) can be amended within the actual year. The advantage for the auditor is that this spreads the audit activity throughout the year, allowing them to cover more councils, rather than packing all councils into the three-month AGAR deadline period up to 30 June each year. This also helps the clerk/RFO by reducing the pressure on their very busy year-end schedule of work.
Areas that the internal auditor should review are:

  1. Bank reconciliations for all accounts and investments held, including any cash holdings. Test checks of receipts and payments for all methods including BACS, cheques, debit cards, direct debits, standing orders, direct credits and local backings. This will cover security and the internal controls in operation. Also review bank mandates for effectiveness and relevancy.
  2. Payroll aspects (whether in-house or outsourced) require test checks of staff contracts and pay calculations, with payments to HMRC and relevant pension schemes.
  3. Insurance cover for standard aspects (including employer and public liability), vehicle and driver cover, cyber cover and personal accident cover (including volunteers) should be properly held at appropriate levels.
  4. The asset register is updated with all additions and disposals shown. Additions should be noted, with relevant serial numbers, at the net cost value (i.e .no VAT or delivery charges included). This will provide the actual figure for the AGAR Box 9. When an item is added to the asset register it should also be notified to the insurer for cover on the current policy.
  5. Risk assessments for all relevant aspects of the council performed and minuted as such, before the relevant 31 March.
  6. VAT is noted correctly in financial software or spreadsheets and claimed on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly or annually) from HMRC. More frequent refunds will assist the council’s cashflow. Some councils may require partial exemption calculations or opt to tax on land and buildings.
  7. Perusal of council minutes, ensuring that all are properly signed and dated by the chair at the subsequent meeting. This makes any council decisions legally binding. Payment schedules should be attached as an appendix or included in the minutes for transparency purposes. Any reviews and updates to standing orders or financial regulations and all risk assessments should be fully minuted before the relevant 31 March. The auditor should look for actioning on various projects, grants sought and earmarked reserves/CIL monies held.
  8. Budgetary control is operating during the financial year, with regular comparison between budget and actuals on cost codes, to allow for virement (transferring money between accounts) if needed. Ensure that a proper budgetary process operates at the end of each calendar year. This allows each council to decide its precept for the following financial year, ready to notify its unitary, borough or district authority by the end of January. The precept figure is then used by these authorities to set their area council tax figures. Council minutes should always show the actual precept amount requested, not just “unchanged” or the percentage increase.
  9. Are internal checks and controls utilised to alert councillors to errors or fraud? For example, simple verification checks that bank statement figures used in bank reconciliations are actually sighted on the statements monthly and then initialled by the chair as correct. For larger councils, ensuring that staff duties are split, ensuring that no one person handles the payments/payroll processes without proper supervision and checks. Previously, this has often been the source of actual fraud within local councils’ finances.
  10. Verification of AGAR Governance (Sheet 1) and Accounting (Sheet 2) for both accuracy and full completion. Review of the significant variances sheet (currently all variances of +/-15% require explanations by the external auditors). Ensure that the bank reconciliation covers all council holdings and short-term investments. Long-term investments must be noted in the asset register and only re-entered in the cashbook when withdrawn and repaid into council bank accounts. If the council prepares accounts in a receipts and payments format, Boxes 7 and 8 must agree. If the council uses an income and expenditure format, the internal auditor needs to test the accuracy of debtors, creditors and accruals. The I&E format will also need a full reconciliation of Boxes 7 and 8 to be submitted to the external auditor with all the normal AGAR paperwork.
  11. Check that the AGAR sheets 1 and 2 have been properly signed, dated, minute reference noted, and minuted in sheet numerical order (i.e. Governance first, then Accounting).
  12. Ensure that the public rights notice has been posted on the website and noticeboards showing the selected 30 days’ access period, and also that the announcement date is at least one day prior to day one of the period.

Finally, the internal auditor will complete and sign off the internal audit report on the AGAR (currently with a required “wet” signature), ready for sending to the external auditor or, if self-certificating, for placing on the council website and noticeboard(s).
I hope that you have all come to the right conclusion that the answer to the question in the title of this article is indeed fact. The internal audit is an aid to management and helps local councils by enhancing their own transparency for all their parishioners. Good luck to all for your 2023/24 internal audits!

Internal Audit Forum
Paul Reynolds is a FMAAT (Fellow Member Association of Accounting Technicians) based in Hampshire and has been involved in local government internal auditing for 55 years. He worked in major authorities for 35 years, then set up Fair Account on 1 April 2002, when the “lighter touch” AGAR audit system was first introduced into the local council sector. Fair Account has a large portfolio of councils covering eight counties in the South and South West of England. It provides internal audit services to local councils, village halls and youth clubs and audits councils of all sizes, from large towns (with offices) to small villages (with the clerk working from home). Paul also provides lectures for AAT and SLCC on internal audit.

Paul Reynolds FMAAT, Fair Account
Clerks & Councils Direct, September 2023



MORECAMBE Town Council in Lancashire was ordered to pay an outstanding bill of £1,538 to audit body Internal Audit Yorkshire in a case heard at Skipton County Court on 4 April. The audit body was appointed on a two-year contract to audit the council’s accounts for financial years 2019/20 and 2020/21 and was also asked to conduct a comprehensive audit review of its financial and internal control systems for 2018/19. It found significant areas of weakness and made 49 recommendations, with a report and Zoom presentation to councillors in August 2020. The council was late in paying the auditor’s invoice of £3,464, and when the interim audit for 2020/21 was carried out, locum clerk Luke Trevaskis challenged its findings and then commissioned a second auditor, while withholding Internal Audit Yorkshire’s report from members of the council. After much wrangling, the audit body took the council to the small claims court in July 2022. It was faced with a counter-claim that it had done a negligent job, with the council seeking payment of £2,351 for additional work plus interest. When the case came to court, the council failed to provide documentation and withdrew its counterclaim. The judge ordered it to pay up within 21 days, and ruled that it could not bring any claims against Internal Audit Yorkshire to be tried in any court and that failure to pay could result in bailiffs being sent in.

Clerks & Councils Direct, July 2023


As Audit Director of Fair Account (who specialise in internal audit for local councils), I could not agree more with the council clerk in the January edition of Clerks & Councils Direct. We audit many local councils of various sizes, across eight counties in the South & South West of England. Thus, we see at firsthand the variety of issues arising from the Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR) audits, including the VAT aspects. The lack of VAT claims &/or incorrect VAT aspects is a common problem, particularly for the smaller councils. As stated on page 28 of the latest NALC Practitioners’ Guide (March 2022), “the Internal auditor should check that VAT claims are prepared and submitted in a timely manner, in line with the underlying records and in accordance with current HMRC regulations”. A council can claim up to three financial years back and HMRC can recover VAT up to six years back, if overclaimed. With the advent of Making Tax Digital for VAT many medium and larger councils are now claiming monthly or quarterly. This assists cashflow and is performed as a regular aspect, thus not being overlooked at year-end. Local councils have a variety of cashbooks, from manual, Excel spreadsheet to proprietary, financial software packages. All will have a column or code for VAT, both on suppliers’ payments and/or certain council receipts from the public. This will enable the clerk to prepare the HMRC refund claim online using the Unique VAT reference that each local council has been allocated. This is only one aspect that a properly qualified internal audit firm can offer local councils, enabling preparation of the AGAR to be completed accurately and swiftly, relieving the clerk of further stress at a very busy time of year for them.

Paul Reynolds FMAAT, Fair Account

Clerks & Councils Direct, July 2023


LLANPUMSAINT Community Council in Carmarthenshire had no candidates standing in the local government elections on 5 May, with the six serving councillors all standing down. Some had served for around 40 years.
The clerk, Phil Jones, claimed that a critical report by Audit Wales and the ensuing row were behind the lack of interest in the small rural community. “The reasons given by some of the councillors for retiring were that they had reached the end of their tether, disillusionment and the pointlessness of it all,” he claimed.
The council, whose six annual meetings are held in Welsh, has an annual budget of around £8,000. Mr Jones, who has been clerk for 10 years, came under fire last autumn for not preparing accounts. He first used his own accountant, until advised that this was not appropriate. He then said that he saw no point in preparing accounts for audit given the size of the authority.
The extra work generated left the council with a bill for £3,456. A spokeswoman for Audit Wales said: “It is vital that where areas of weakness are identified, they are acted on so that communities get the assurance and service they deserve. This dispute has rolled on for a long time and we have tried on many occasions to come to an understanding.” 

Clerks & Councils Direct, May 2022


CAN you advise please whether section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 enables us to postpone our annual meeting, or to hold it remotely, and can you advise the latest position regarding the timeframe for the annual audit (has the timeframe been extended?) or where I can find information on that. Many thanks.

Cllr Helen Heelan, Stanion Parish Council, Northants

Editor’s note: We suggested a number of sources that Cllr Heelan could try for information, including Northamptonshire County Association of Local Councils, NALC, SLCC and the Smaller Authorities’ Audit Appointments (SAAA).
She responded that she had eventually found the answers to both questions via the website. She reported: “Unless you are used to interpreting legislation, it can be quite hard to understand exactly what it permits you to do. For instance, some people are not aware that certain elements of the primary legislation are required to be enacted by secondary legislation, or that parts of the Act may come into force in stages and on different dates. I signed up to receiving the latest updates on legislative changes relating to Covid-19 from via email, and found it by far the best source of reliable information.”

Clerks & Councils Direct, May 2020


I WAS amazed to see the comment on the letters page of the November issue of Clerks & Councils Direct to the effect that councils with an annual turnover of less than £25,000 need not have an external audit subject to the normal transparency code – which is understood.
My council has regularly had a precept of under £4,000 for many years, yet we have been forced by the Wales Audit Office to subject ourselves to a ludicrous external audit on such a small precept – and carried out by auditors in England!
I say “ludicrous” because when you add the charges of both internal and external audit together, they generally amount to 10 per cent of our annual income, which could be better spent on our tiny community of 230 residents.
Is there one law for Wales and one for England? I thought the two countries came under English law, covering England and Wales. Or has the Welsh Assembly changed all this for the worse?
Your comments would be much appreciated as there are many tiny councils in Wales that are subjected to the same needless expense and time-wasting.

Cllr David Unwin, Merthyr Mawr Community Council, Bridgend 

Paul Clayden writes: The regulations specifying a lower limit of £25,000 for external audit apply only in England. With hindsight, perhaps this should have been made clear in my comments on the query in the November issue.

Clerks & Councils Direct, January 2020


COULD you help with the following query? How/when does a small parish with income/ expenditure of less than £25,000 declare itself as exempt from external audit or assurance review?

Name and address supplied

Paul Clayden writes: There is no specified procedure for a council to declare itself an exempt authority. In my view, this can be done immediately after the accounts for the financial year in question show that the council’s turnover does not exceed £25,000 for that year. The council can pass a resolution declaring that it is an exempt authority within the definition contained in the Local Audit (Smaller Authorities) Regulations 2015.

Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2018


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


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


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


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


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:



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


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


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




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




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


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


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


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


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



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



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



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

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