In Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s recently published Code of corporate governance it states at Part G:
We comply with the local government transparency code and publish all required information in a timely manner. [Emphasis ours]
However, the evidence available to the public clear shows the statement made by the Council does not hold true.
Let’s take the Council’s Procurement card transactions data.
On the 16 March 2022, so almost one year ago, Report Number AuG/21/22, prepared by Charlotte Spendley Director – Corporate Services (S151), went before the Audit & Governance Committee, the Council had issued twenty four procurement cards to officers. At this time though they had not published any procurement card data. When they did publish it, they ballsed it up. But that aside, we note, that there is still only four years worth of data, when there should be eight. And we note that the year 2022/23 still only gives the first three months data, when we should have the data up until Dec 2022 published. How then can the Council claim they’ll publish “all required information in a timely manner.”?
The new or interim s151 officer who has been appointed is Lydia Morrison (pictured), who has been s151 officer at East Hampshire District Council, Havant Borough Council and the CFO/Financial Secretary of the Falkand Islands Government.
That said in the Code of corporate governance at Part E, it states:
We have appointed a professionally qualified and experienced Chief Financial Officer, who will lead the promotion and delivery of good financial management, safeguarding public money and ensuring appropriate, economic, efficient and effective use of funds; together with professional accountability for finance staff throughout the Council.
Does this mean the last/outgoing s151 Officer (Charlotte Spendley) was not “professionally qualified and experienced“?
Just in case you are not aware of a Section 151 Officer’s responsibilities, they are:
ensuring that appropriate advice is given on all financial matters, for keeping proper financial records and accounts, and for maintaining an effective system of internal financial control.
It is clear that the outgoing s151 Officer Charlotte Spendley did not maintain “an effective system of internal financial control.” as is made clear in Report Number AuG/22/21; which states:
“The Audit work found that management could place No Assurance on the system of internal controls in operation…“
No assurance in audit terms means:
Immediate action is required to address fundamental gaps, weaknesses or noncompliance identified. The system of governance, risk management and control is inadequate to effectively manage risks to the achievement of objectives in the area audited.
And let’s not forget, the external auditors findings, in their report state:
“that the short term debtors balance of £4,132m for 2020/21 in the Group Balance Sheet was incorrect and should be £17,442m“
How could the person responsible, Charlotte Spendley, forget that the Council were owed £13.310m by short term debtors. What else might the outgoing s151 officer have forgotten?
Much of the above mentioned has been rectified well after the event, and after we have published much of the data showing the failure to ensure an “effective system of internal financial control.”
Let’s hope Lydia Morrison, the new/interim s151 officer will keep a very tight rein on the systems of internal controls, as our Council have, as last reported, a £16m pound deficit across the next four years. If internal controls are not tightly managed the deficit will only grow, and we’ll need to use more of our reserves to balance our budget in future years, as we have done for the financial year 2023/24.
Finally we say welcome to Lydia Morrison. Let’s hope she does a better job than the outgoing s151 officer, who we honestly believe did not do a very good job, given the evidence in the public domain.
The Shepway Vox Team
Not owned by Hedgefunds or Barons