Council given low score by inspectors

PUBLISHED: 09:32 08 May 2008 | UPDATED: 21:27 31 May 2010

AUDIT inspectors have given Uttlesford District Council (UDC) the lowest possible score in three key areas of an annual inspection. The authority, which has taken drastic action to help recover a £1.8 million deficit, was given a one-out-of-four rating fo

AUDIT inspectors have given Uttlesford District Council (UDC) the lowest possible score in three key areas of an annual inspection.

The authority, which has taken drastic action to help recover a £1.8 million deficit, was given a one-out-of-four rating for its financial reporting, financial management and financial standing, and two out of four for its internal control and value for money.

The Audit Commission's annual audit and inspection letter made a number of recommendations to the council, including working more closely with potential partners and vigilantly monitoring its financial management.

The report said: "Budget monitoring and asset management arrangements were found to be weak, with members not routinely receiving regular budget monitoring reports and the responsibility for asset management being split between several departments, with no single corporate approach being applied."

The analysis of UDC's accounts related to the financial year 2006/07, although the report was also based on revelations on the council's fiscal situation that came to light in the following six months.

Interim chief executive of UDC, John Mitchell, said he was unsurprised that the Audit Commission had been so critical of the council's financial management.

"It's not something to be downhearted about," he said. "We have addressed our financial problems, brought in outside help with Bill Roots, and now have a balanced budget and medium-term strategy.

"Our voluntary improvement board had its first meeting on Friday, which brought together representatives from GO-East, IDeA, Improvement East and the Audit Commission, and was very productive.

"For each of the Audit Commission's recommendations, if we haven't already acted on them then we intend to very shortly."

The authority is now one of just nine district councils in England not achieving minimum requirements for the use of resources.

A separate report published by the Audit Commission this week closely examined UDC's community housing, concluding that the service provided was "fair" with "poor prospects for improvement".

Mark Elsworth, lead housing inspector for the region, said: "The council works well with housing associations and parish councils to provide new affordable homes. It is focused on preventing homelessness, and has an emergency plan in place to deal with homeless people arriving at Stansted Airport.

"It now needs to ensure recent improvements are better co-ordinated and more customer-focused. The council is aware of this and is addressing key areas of weakness to ensure customers receive improved services."

The Audit Commission complimented the council for its welcoming staff, the high standard of its affordable housing schemes and the introduction of its "Home Options" letting scheme.

However, it was critical of UDC's inability to prove that the community housing service provided value for money and its ineffective approach to private sector housing.

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