South Cambridgeshire Council could fail to complete external audit for a third straight year
South Cambridgeshire District Council’s accounting problems look set to continue, with the head of finance raising the prospect of missing the third annual audit deadline in a row.
All councils need to have their accounts externally audited, but South Cambridgeshire has not completed the process for 2017/18 or 18/19.
Speaking at the council’s audit and corporate governance committee yesterday (September 25) the head of finance, Peter Maddock, said the team had taken on more staff, and may need even more as the council aims to have three annual external audits completed in six months.
Suresh Patel, associate partner at the council’s external auditor, Ernst and Young, described ongoing problems.
Mr Patel said his team tried to complete the 17/18 audit in August but said: “unfortunately a number of the information requests that we had left with the council back in May hadn’t been responded to appropriately… in essence, while we did progress the audit we weren’t in a position to conclude the work that we needed to do.”
Addressing his own firm’s recruiting issues he said “the whole profession is struggling to recruit,” and he outlined a “huge recruitment drive” by EY, including bringing in 150 “experienced hires” from South Africa.
Mr Maddock said it was his “gut feeling” the council would need more resources on top of the additional two temporary staff members in order to address the council’s own staffing issues.
“It’s vitally important we do get back on track because as soon as something slips the whole thing – a bit like a domino – the whole thing slips,” he said.
Asked if the council can hit it’s 19/20 deadline he said: “I’m happy we are in a position to deliver the 17/18 and the 18/19”. But added he would need to assess the 19/20 situation next year.
“I think that [the 19/20 accounts] is the most challenging of the three years simply because of the knock-on effect,” he said. “With the timetable we have it’s important as much work gets done on the 19/20 accounts before we get to March 31, but of course with all the other things we are doing, that will inevitable slip a bit. I’m just highlighting the fact that potentially there could be a knock-on effect on the 19/20 accounts.”
Conservative councillor Heather Williams said: “We have had no sight of the actual financial position – the real financial position of council – for a significant amount of time and that as an audit and corporate governance committee is concerning”
“We are not on a happy path,” added Conservative councillor Peter Topping.
South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Lead Cabinet Member for Finance, Lid Dem councillor John Williams, said: “We have a very detailed understanding of our financial position, but it is clearly frustrating that our external auditors haven’t concluded their independent work.”
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