Council told to sign off accounts so it doesn't look 'dodgy'

A council's outstanding accounts from previous years should be signed off as soon as possible, a councillor has urged. Up until now Stoke-on-Trent City Council had not had a set of accounts finalised since 2019, due to internal issues and a national shortage of qualified auditors.

The authority's audit committee has now finally approved the accounts for 2019/20, following a 'significant delay' in the external audit. But the accounts for the three subsequent years, up to 2022/23, have still yet to be signed off.

Audit committee member Andy Platt called for this process to be completed as a matter of urgency, in order to give residents peace of mind that nothing untoward was happening at the council.

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Cllr Platt said: "I'm certain that nothing dodgy is going on, but people out there will see that we've not had any accounts signed off for four years and they'll be concerned. It would be great if we could get the three outstanding audits sorted out in this financial year."

Local authority accounts must be externally audited to check their accuracy and to provide assurance to taxpayers that they are getting value for money. The city council published its draft accounts for 2019/20 in July 2020.

Director of resources and strategy Nick Edmonds told the committee that there had been such a long delay in finalising the accounts due to issues within the council itself, and the national lack of auditors - with many other local authorities being similarly affected by the latter.

Auditors from Ernst and Young had three main concerns with the council - the 'inadequate' rating for children's services from Ofsted; the precarious financial position; and specific issues relating to the management of Court of Protection accounts. These concerns have resulted in the auditors giving the city council a 'qualified' opinion for value for money, although the committee was told that all three issues had been dealt with since 2020.

Mr Edmonds said: "It was a combination of factors that caused the delay in bringing the final set of accounts forward. I think it's fair to say that we share the frustration of the committee, but I'm pleased that we are now reaching a conclusion."

The council has issued audit conclusion delay notices for the last three years, due to 'resource capacity constraints' at Ernst and Young, and the need to conclude the 2019/20 accounts. Mr Edmonds told the committee that the final accounts for these three years would be brought to future meetings for approval.

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