Folkestone & Hythe District Council are in breach of the law again, but neither of the two statutory officers, Charlotte Spendley -s151 officer, responsible for the money and the Council’s accounts, or her colleague, Amandeep Khroud, monitoring officer and Solicitor for the Council, are doing anything about it. Both have the powers to bring about compliance with the law, but both are failing to do so.
How are they breaking the law?
The requirements on local authorities to publish their audited accounts are set out in the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015. For 2021-22, the requirement set out in paragraph 9 was amended to 30 November by The Accounts and Audit (Amendment) Regulations 2021.
Given the requirements in the 2015 regulations for there to be a period of inspection lasting thirty working days, auditors cannot issue their opinion on the financial statements until that period has elapsed.
However, from the perspective of compliance with the 2015 Regulations, Paragraph 10 (2) of the 2015 regulations requires:
(2) Where an audit of accounts has not been concluded before the date specified in paragraph (1) an authority must—
(a) publish (which must include publication on the authority’s website) as soon as reasonably practicable on or after that date a notice stating that it has not been able to publish the statement of accounts and its reasons for this; and
(b) comply with paragraph (1) as if for “but not later than 31st July of the financial year immediately following the end of the financial year to which the statement relates” there were substituted “as soon as reasonably practicable after the receipt of any report from the auditor which contains the auditor’s final findings from the audit which is issued before the conclusion of the audit”.
In this case, the ‘date specified in paragraph (1)’ referred to is 30 November 2022. The effect of paragraph 10 is that where the Council is unable to publish audited accounts by 30 November, it must instead publish a notice explaining why the audited accounts have not been published, and then, once the audit is complete, it must publish the audited accounts as soon as it is able to do so.
As of this morning, 1 Dec 2022, there is no public notice explaining why the audited accounts have not been published. There is though a a notice which informs us about the Notice of delayed public inspection 2022 of the accounts; which is an altogether different matter.
Put simply this means that no person who wishes to Save Princes Parade, Otterpool Park or Biggins Wood can inspect the accounts, as per s26 of the Local Audit & Accountability Act 2014 presently. s26 states any resident of the district can:
(a) inspect the accounting records for the financial year to which the audit relates and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers, receipts and other documents relating to those records, and
(b) make copies of all or any part of those records or documents.
To be even more concise this means:
Both ‘accounts to be audited’ and ‘relating to’ should be given a broad meaning: the former referring to and/or embracing the underlying record of financial movements kept as a running record but made up for each financial year, and the latter requiring only a factual connection between the accounts and the documents in question, and not an express reference or mention (see - of the judgment).
Of late there has been too much non-compliance with regards to public money as is made quite clear in Report Number AuG/22/21.
It is time for those responsible to comply with the law. This is public money and we all have a right to know how it was spent.
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful