Part 2: Your Rights to Inspect the Council’s Accounts

Following on from Part 1 yesterday, if after inspecting the accounts and asking questions you are concerned about something in the accounts, you may wish to object to the accounts. Examples of concerns that might be appropriate for an objection are where in your view, there is an item in the accounts that is unlawful; there are issues relevant to the authority’s arrangements for securing value for money or that are referred to in an authority’s annual governance statement; or there are serious matters of wider concern, for instance around corporate governance, arising from the authority’s finances.

Remember you can only make an objection within the 30 day inspection period; the auditor has no discretion to extend this period. It’s really important you do not delay corresponding with the auditor. If you leave this to the last minute and submit an ineligible objection, there may not be time to re-submit an eligible objection before the end of the inspection period, and you may lose your right to object.

Who can object to the accounts?

You can only object to the accounts if you are on the electoral register for Folkestone & Hythe District. There are no exceptions to this. None.

What is an objection to the accounts?

If you object to the accounts you must write to the Auditor and the s151 Officer. This can be done by email: – s151 Officer – Auditor

You can ask the auditor to apply to the High Court for a declaration that an item of account is unlawful, or to issue a report on matters which are in the public interest (‘a public interest report’).

You must, so far as is possible, tell the auditor in writing which item in the accounts you object to and why you think the item is unlawful, or why you think that a public interest report should be made (providing the relevant details about the issue, where possible). Simply disagreeing with the merits of any decision taken regarding income or spending does not make it unlawful.

An unlawful item of account is one that, for example, records spending or income
that the authority:

• spent or received without powers to do so;
• took from, or added to, the wrong fund or account; or
• spent on something that it had the power to spend on, but the decision to spend the money was wholly unreasonable or irrational.

‘Unreasonable’ has a special meaning in law in this context and is a high threshold. An authority acts ‘unreasonably’ when its actions are so wholly unreasonable that no reasonable person could have made that decision. This is sometimes called acting ‘irrationally’ or Wednesbury unreasonableness.

You may want to raise issues relating to matters that the auditor might consider issuing a report in the public interest. This could include issues relevant to the Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s arrangements for securing Value-for-Money-(VfM), or matters of wider concern arising from the authority’s finances. Again, the auditor will not take action simply because you disagree with any income or spending, nor is the auditor likely to get involved where you argue that particular spending is not value for money. The auditor’s concerns will be with the adequacy of the authority’s general arrangements for securing value for money.

The Code of Audit Practice requires auditors to consider what would be the most appropriate and effective means of reporting. When doing so, auditors consider issues such as:

• the significance of the matter or weakness in arrangements;
• whether the body already recognises the need to address the matter and is taking appropriate action;
• what information is already in the public domain and whether further reporting to bring the matter to the attention of the public is appropriate;
• which form of reporting is likely to be most effective in helping the audited body to understand the significance of the matter and the need to take action; and
• whether previous reporting has been acted upon and, if not, whether more prominent reporting – such as issuing a statutory recommendation or a report in the public interest – is now necessary.

It is therefore possible that even where the auditor has considered an objection and finds in favour of the objector they may consider a different response to be more appropriate to the particular circumstances – or more cost-effective – than an application to a court for a declaration or a report in the public interest.

How does the auditor consider my objection?

In everything they do, auditors must follow the Act, the 2015 Code of Audit Practice and any statutory guidance issued in support of the Code (a new Code of Audit Practice was published in 2020 for financial years 2020-21 onwards). Under the Code of Audit Practice, the auditor must take a balanced approach in spending time and money examining an objection. The auditor will consider:

• how significant the matter is;
• whether there is wider public interest in the issues you raised;
• whether they, or another auditor, have previously considered the matter;
• whether the substance of the matter falls within the scope of work conducted by an inspectorate or other body;
• the costs of dealing with the matter; and
• your rights, and the authority’s, individual councillors’ and authority officers’ rights

The auditor will usually write to you to say how they have dealt with your objection and the outcome.

For a fuller understanding of all your rights you can read the latest guide to your rights published by the National Audit Office

If you do object we wish you the best of luck

The Shepway Vox Team

Dissent is NOT a Crime

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