Council under fire after finance documents not sent for second year running

A Black Country council has come under under fire after documents used to assist the auditor were not delivered for the second year running.

Dudley Council
Dudley Council

In an audit and scrutiny meeting for Dudley Council held on Monday this week, the auditor noted information needed to complete land, building, and housing valuations had not been complete.

The council holds a wide portfolio of land and property that supports a range of services.

Valuations are used to ensure councils can accurately report on the value of their portfolio, as is their statutory obligation, and to be competitively priced.

Mark Stocks, external auditor at Grant Thornton LLP, who delivered the presentation, said: “We note that the information needed to conclude our work on land, building and housing valuation has not all been made available to us.

“This is the second year that this has occurred. We have escalated this to the chief executive and the responsible director. This is an area of concern for us and we considered that this reflects poorly on the governance of the council.

He added: “Action is needed to resolve this issue and strengthen controls in this area for future years.”

In all her nine years of sitting on the audit committee, Councillor Jackie Cowell, who represents Quarry Bank and Dudley Wood, said it was the first time “a serious concern” was raised about Dudley Council’s audit and finances.

She said: “The auditor didn’t mince his words in his opening remarks. He drew attention to and said it wasn’t acceptable.

“There’s no real excuse for somebody like a big metropolitan council like Dudley to be not supplying the auditor with the paperwork when they need it.

“It was very clear that he was not happy with Dudley and we needed to get this sorted. He made it abundantly clear that he will not tolerate a repeat performance next year.”

The audit committee heard deputy chief executive Balvinder Heran suggest documentation had been submitted to the auditor, but the auditor “could not confirm receipt” at the time.

Councillor Cowell added: “I don’t think this is Dudley’s finest hour. There should be no question of a timely and adequate response to the auditor. If we aren’t getting that right, then it is a real concern.

Balvinder Heran, deputy chief executive, said: “Making sure we have an independent audit of the work we do is essential to make sure there is complete transparency in the way we work, to identify best practice and to pick up any areas where there is room for improvement.

“We recognise and accept the findings of the report and are working with the auditors to ensure they have all the information they require as a priority. Going forward we are putting plans in place to provide a robust response to our independent auditors.”

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