At its meeting of 10 June, WPC was finally able to close the 2017/18 audit. As we have explained in earlier statements in the VN, the delay was caused by an extraordinarily large volume of objections submitted to the external auditor by three individuals in the village. The outcome of these actions was the production of three letters – one to each of the objectors. These letters have now been published on the WPC website with the names of the individuals redacted. The auditor (PKF Littlejohn) either rejected the objections as ineligible or, for those that were allowed to be considered, the auditor found after review that no further action by them was warranted on any of the objections. Having disposed of the objections, the auditor was then able to issue to WPC a final report and audit certificate. These are also published on the village website. (Links can be found under WPC, Notices, 29 May 2019). The report provided the WPC with some useful points on process which we will utilise in the coming year and also provided the clarifications the Council itself had sought from the auditor on how to restate past accounts in order to ensure that our 2018/19 audit could be properly reconciled.
Unfortunately, just as we had warned, the cost of the auditors’ handling of the objections of the three has led to an enormous bill. Along with our certification, the auditor presented the Council with an invoice in excess of £14,000. This is actually MORE than the entire 2017/18 precept of £12,000! It is also almost 60 times the base audit cost of £240 which would have been our cost were it not for the complaints lodged by the three villagers. To cover such a bill would mean not only emptying the Village’s Council reserves, but also a potential increase of the precept yet again next year for the sole purpose of paying the external auditor’s invoice. The Council believes that the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 and the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015 have been clearly misused in this situation. Although the situation arose from the actions of the 3 villagers, we believe that the auditor did not appropriately take into account the requirements of proportionality and the public interest in its approach that resulted in this wildly disproportionate cost to the Village. We will be taking this up directly with PKF Littlejohn and the National Audit Office, with support from the Suffolk and National Associations of Local Councils and the East Suffolk District Council.
At the 10 June meeting, the WPC also concluded its financial business for 2018/19 by completing the Annual Governance Statement and approving the unaudited Accounts for 2018/19. These are available on the website and for public inspection. We thank the villagers who joined us at our meeting on 10 June and others who have given their strong support and encouragement to the Council.