The External Auditor’s Report for the County Council for the last financial year has been published and it makes for scary reading.
Firstly, when the auditors came the council didn’t have all the papers ready due to the council’s finance team being overstretched and some of those that were did not reconcile with the figures in the council’s draft financial statements. Given the well-known seriousness of County Council’s ongoing financial position, this raises questions about whether they are up to the task of dealing with the current mess they are in.
The auditors highlight some grave concerns, including that the fixed asset register and supporting paperwork remain over complex and fragmented, and do not provide clear audit trails to enable an efficient audit of those balances and therefore raised concerns over the authority’s ability to meet their mandatory deadlines.
They went on to explain that the council only met their 2015/16 challenges by utilising £16.5m from reserves and that Adult Social Care overspent by £8.5m and Children’s Services by £20.9m including £8m relating to the additional costs of employing a high number of expensive agency social workers.
The auditors questioned whether NCC had ‘proper arrangements to ensure it took informed decisions and deployed resources to achieve planned and sustainable outcomes for taxpayers and residents’ and as a result have issued their opinion that value for money is not being achieved and put the council on notice that better plan are needed. They also said that of 28 councils they audit this is only the third time they have had to issue this stark warning.
They further highlighted ‘a deterioration in the quality of the accounts and the supporting working papers’ and looking forward raised the need to ensure that the new bodies set up under the Next generation Working model ‘have robust governance processes in place’ and were so concerned over this issue they raised this issue of the highest priority for the council. This along with how these bodies will be accountable to residents and the council, has been an area the Labour opposition has raised many times.
They also went on to note that in this current year the council have already reported that £34.9m of the required £65m savings were at risk as well as extra pressures of £13.6m being identified and the auditors pointed out the authority does not have the reserves available this year to use in the way they did last year.