We want to tell you, we really do, but we can’t. It isn’t because we cannot tell you because of some legal reasons, it’s because Folkestone & Hythe District Council (FHDC), our Council, can’t tell us.
Our public face asked the Council in a request to inspect the accounts on the 14th June for:
A list of all overpayments made by the Council for 17/18 to include amounts and date paid. The amounts refunded, to include dates and amount. Any amounts outstanding and waiting to be recovered.
Sixteen days later the Council response was:
The authority does not hold a list of all overpayments and I am therefore not able to provide it to you. We have explored the available routes but we neither hold this information nor are able to generate it.
What the Council are saying in essence is they cannot tell who they have overpaid, not without manually checking the many hundreds of thousands of payments they make. This would be very time consuming. As the Council make clear they cannot generate a list of overpayments made. This is very worrying because the Council cannot therefore know how much they have overpaid any supplier they use.
When you make a payment you compare that to the purchase order to check if the amount is correct. Like so:
Now FHDC must publish details of any purchase order that exceeds £5,000 and this they do. They can be downloaded from FHDC’s website.
So as they Council cannot know who has been overpaid, without manually checking, the Council cannot say how much they have overpaid any supplier as we said. Nor can they generate this information. So it could be tuppence, or it could be £5 million, the Council may have overpaid but they have no way of knowing, without doing a manual reconciliation which would, as we said, take a lot of time.
This is where the Auditor comes in. FHDC’s Auditor is Grant Thornton, they will take a random sample and check the Purchase Orders against the invoices. If the random samples are within the error margins the Accounts can be signed off as a true and fair record.
Now Grant Thornton state in their External Audit Plan 2017-18
Misstatements, including omissions, are considered to be material if they, individually or in the aggregate, could reasonably be expected to influence the economic decisions of users taken on the basis of the financial statements.
As the Council cannot reconcile the purchase orders against the invoices without manually checking, them all, could we, the public, reasonably conclude not knowing the full amount of overpayments influences and affects the basis of the financial statements/accounts? We would say yes. However, the Council might say the Auditor is satisfied with our systems as he has inspected a random sample of overpayments, therefore the Accounts for 17/18, are correct.
We though are not, nor would not be satisfied with such a response. You however, can draw your own conclusions.
The Shepwayvox Team