District council’s accounts will not be signed off this month, sparking war of words

Uttlesford District Council.

Uttlesford District Council. - Credit: Archant

A war of words has broken out over Uttlesford District Council’s accounts, after it was revealed they would not be signed off by November 30.

Ayub Khan, Lib Dem councillor for Stansted South and Birchanger. Photo: Supplied by Ayub Khan.

Ayub Khan, Lib Dem councillor for Stansted South and Birchanger. Photo: Supplied by Ayub Khan. - Credit: Supplied by Ayub Khan

Green, Liberal Democrat and Conservative leaders at Uttlesford claim councillors are being “kept in the dark” and are demanding that the Residents for Uttlesford ruling group explains what is going on with the annual accounts for 2019-20.

But R4U says the opposition “seek to play politics” and Uttlesford District Council says the delay is not related to a financial matter.

Councillor Ayub Khan, Liberal Democrat councillor for Stansted South and Birchanger, said he has been stonewalled when asking about it.

“I raised it at the public meeting and got nowhere. I’ve been raising it for the past week in emails to all councillors and with the portfolio holder for finance, only to be met with obfuscation and denial. This is shocking.”

Councillor Neil Hargreaves. Picture: R4U

Councillor Neil Hargreaves. Picture: R4U - Credit: Residents For Uttlesford

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Green, Conservative and Liberal Democrat group leaders, Paul Fairhurst, Chris Criscione, and Alan Dean, are seeking an explanation.

Green leader Cllr Paul Fairhurst said: “It is disappointing that an issue as grave as an auditor’s refusal to sign off accounts is veiled in such mystery and silence.”

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Conservative leader Cllr Chris Criscione said: “Uttlesford Council is unable to complete its accounts because of an ongoing investigation, but councillors from all parties are being kept in the dark by the council’s leadership on what that investigation concerns.”

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Alan Dean said: “This is an unprecedented situation. It has not previously occurred in my 30-plus years at Uttlesford. It’s not our officers’ fault.”

A council spokesman said: “The approval of Uttlesford District Council’s 2019-20 accounts has been delayed due to an issue unrelated to its finances.

“The accounts, which set out the council’s financial activities and position, are examined by our auditors BDO each year before being approved at a meeting of the Governance, Audit and Performance Committee.

“This year there has been a delay, although the delay is not related to any financial matter.

“A document called the Annual Governance Statement is approved alongside the accounts each year and it is a matter which could have implications for this document that means the accounts won’t be signed off by November 30. Once the matter is resolved through an internal investigation, we expect the accounts to be signed off.

“The financial audit of the accounts is complete and no major issues have arisen, which means once again the council expects to receive a clean bill of financial health from BDO.”

Councillor Neil Hargreaves, R4U and UDC portfolio holder for Finance said: “Like all councillors, I am very keen to have the UDC annual accounts signed off as soon as possible. The delay has nothing to do with council’s financial accounts, which have already been published. It is due to an outstanding procedural matter, unrelated to the finances, which will be resolved in the fullness of time.

“These types of procedural matters happen regularly at councils; it just happens that this one is ongoing as the accounts are being signed off. The matter is confidential in nature, and the rules are that it must be dealt with by council officers, not by councillors. Experienced members of the opposition should know this.

“Meanwhile we all have a pandemic to deal with. Some residents have lost their livelihoods and local businesses are under stress. It would be more useful for the opposition parties to work with us in support of our communities than endlessly spending their time playing politics.”

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