Bexley’s Audit Committee met on Wednesday evening and as befits the sober
subject matter the meeting was a sober affair bereft of the fireworks seen the previous
evening at the Health Committee meeting.
Chaired as usual by councillor Steven Hall, he probably disappoints the Bexley Action Group members present because of the total absence of petty dictatorship. His committee of four councillors (one was absent) is assisted by Committee Officer Mike Summerskill who efficiently looks after everyone including members of the public. The accounts were signed off within the first 15 minutes and the 346 page Agenda presented to the committee was devoured within the hour. To be honest the latter is a guess as I could only stay for 35 minutes but the committee was well on its way to wrapping up by then. Why the accounts are signed off before the auditors report is heard is a mystery to me.
John Peters, the Deputy Director of Finance, said the council’s reserves had risen above £8 million which councillor Howard Marriner reminded us is only a week’s expenditure. Mr. Peters said there were budget pressures on children’s services. Councillor Malik expressed some disquiet about the PFI contracts and spoke of renegotiation. Mr. Peters didn't seem to think that was very likely and believed the costs were indexed at 3%.
This year the audit was done by Grant Thornton, the Audit Commission having been killed off by the present government. Those 346 pages show that audit costs fell to £213,000 for 2012/13 from £279,000 the year before. My accountancy knowledge is zero but I was surprised to hear they only sample the accounts with the aid of their home-brew software. Maybe that is how their costs can be reduced.
Sue Exton gave a clear and concise explanation of the auditor’s role and findings and she had me fooled for a moment because the performance of Bexley’s management females is usually dire but I was being silly, Ms. Exton is a Grant Thornton employee. She said that her company found no more to complain about in Bexley than they had in other London boroughs. There was some concern that Bexley’s ‘journal authorisation controls’ are lax and my enquiries reveal that is something to do with not having invoices and expense claims checked by senior officers. Well that would explain Ian Clement getting away with everything wouldn’t it? You’d think they would have fixed that by now.
Only two other members of the public were present and as usual I knew the name and address of both of them.
Note: The Health Committee meeting is not yet reported here.