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Bonkers Blog November 2014

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24 November (Part 2) - £5·8 million. 5% of revenue at risk. “No material effect”

You may not have noticed his absence but I certainly have. My friend Nicholas Dowling who managed to put councillor Cheryl Bacon on the end of a criminal investigation with a clapped out tape recorder has faded from the Bexley bashing scene. The fact is he found a lady willing to marry him a couple of years ago and for the past three or four months his time has been fully occupied by nappies and bath times. Without him I have floundered somewhat with audits and accounts.

However as luck would have it another accountant has surfaced anxious to demonstrate that Bexley’s statements are not as boring as you might believe - but twice as untrustworthy. I’ve decided that carving his letter up into small blocks is probably too much like hard work and may detract from the message. So what follows is pretty much as it was given to me. Even for me it wasn’t too difficult to follow.

Dear Bexley is Bonkers,

I have been an avid follower for quite a while now and having read some of your blogs about the shambolic state of affairs surrounding the auditing of Bexley council’s accounts I felt compelled to investigate further. Thank you for highlighting the issue and I thought you might appreciate my research and musings around what is surely a new nadir for this rotten borough that we all live in.

Rest assured it did not take long to establish that you have been accurately reporting shenanigans of the highest order at Bexley council where it is clearly evident that senior council officers have been conniving – with the undoubted assistance of our piss poor directly elected representatives - to keep the truth out of the public eye regarding the shambolic behaviour displayed in this affair.

AccountsSo let me start with a quote from Bexley council’s website where you can find the following upstanding and proper claim: “the audited Statement of Accounts is then approved by the council's Audit Committee by the end of September following the end of the financial year”. (Click image for source.)

Well, given that the council’s Audit Committee approved the 2013-14 accounts without a full audit having been completed what does that say about the integrity and probity of our glorious council in operation?

Perhaps your readers might be interested in a game of spot the difference:

Approval of the Accounts
I certify that the Statement of Accounts for 2013/14 has been approved by resolution of the Audit Committee of the London Borough of Bexley.
Councillor Joseph Pollard, Chairman, Audit Committee 24 September 2014

Approval of the Accounts
I certify that the Statement of Accounts for 2012/13 has been approved by resolution of the General Purposes Committee of the London Borough of Bexley in accordance with the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2011.
Councillor Lucia-Hennis, Chairman, General Purposes Committee 26 September 2013

Evidently Bexley council can no longer claim that it is adhering to the Accounts and Audit Regulations. Do they have no shame?

ReservesI genuinely wonder how many accountants we are paying to make sure that everything is above board and fully compliant in our borough? Not enough it would appear as this is failure on a grand scale.

A private company that could not claim to have their accounts fully audited would not thrive for very long; additionally, it would have a great deal of explaining to do too.

Oh, it is just all so different in the world of Local Government. No statement of explanation is proffered and everybody just seems to ignore the calamity and carries on regardless. Well done one and all. Clearly Bexley council is relying on a disinterested public but this failure to be fully audited is plainly borderline incompetent behaviour and ignoring this fact is such an ostrich like mentality that is truly outmoded and not acceptable in the 21st century. Bexley residents deserve so much better.

Politicians of all stripes are forever soul searching and wondering how they can restore the electorate’s faith in them. Well, let me tell you it is just this sort of dishonesty and deviousness that they need to root out. It is just not acceptable to normal people that those who are in power and elected to look after our affairs can so willfully abrogate their responsibility and attempt to duck the truth whilst espousing openness and transparency as their modus operandi.

Bexley council has 132 pages of accounts and only on the final page are we informed by Susan M. Exton Director of Grant Thornton (the council’s auditors).

Delay in certification of completion of the audit
We cannot formally conclude the audit and issue an audit certificate until we have completed our consideration of matters brought to our attention by local authority elector. We are satisfied that these matters do not have a material effect on the financial statements or a significant impact on our value for money conclusion.

ReservesWhat a shame that no precise definition of a material effect is provided. I mean with a budget of £180 million what’s a million or two? 1% or so and probably not very material to an auditor but this is a heck of a lot of council tax to local residents.

132 pages and nobody in Bexley’s accounts wants to explain to local residents why the auditors cannot complete their audit. So, does anybody seem to care about this state of affairs at Bexley council? Of course they don’t! I mean to them it is all about reputational damage limitation (or some such management gobble de gook) the openness and transparency is expediently ditched by these dishonourable types who hide the truth in the public domain whilst not pointing it out to anyone.

A reasonable person might see this underhand behaviour as prevarication and diversion of the highest order; and the rationale is to maintain the fiction that Bexley council can claim it is doing the right thing whilst actually doing completely the opposite. Such, I am afraid, is the truly sad state of affairs here in Bexley and, I assume, is all masterminded and implemented by the dubious duo of Will Tuckley and Teresa O’Neill.

On the other hand, surely we can rely on Bexley’s much trumpeted overview and scrutiny to get to the bottom of things in relation to this matter. From the quote above we know there was an Audit Committee meeting that discussed the accounts so they must have probed the matter?
Er, perhaps not. You can read the draft minutes here but the relevant part is:

Ms. Exton also reported that a possible objection to the accounts had recently been received which she would need to consider before deciding whether she needed to issue a formal report. When asked about the potential additional cost, Ms. Exton reported that the last time there was an objection to the accounts it resulted in additional audit fees of £18,000.

So, the committee knew precisely that there was a problem with the audit but rather than establish what the problem was and discuss if anything needed to be addressed or investigated by council officers all the committee was interested in was what the extra cost of the audit would be.

What sort of scrutiny was employed here? Looks like the three wise monkeys’ approach to me and resulted in absolutely none at all. Unfortunately once again our political representatives failed in their democratic duty to hold Bexley council to account. A deliberate ploy, or plain incompetence?

The cost question must have been a deliberate deflection by the Tories but why nobody wanted to delve into the provenance of the matter itself beggars belief and really highlights the bankrupt and pointless nature of these committees. Still they serve their fig leaf purpose so undoubtedly they will continue to be proffered as the preferred choice of the dominant one party political machine here in Bexley. After all, Teresa & Will, if you want to maintain the corrupt and dishonest status quo at Bexley council, just carry on precisely as you have before.

Thank heavens for the fresh and relevant perspective that Bexley is Bonkers offers otherwise nobody would truly scrutinise this useless bunch. Keep up the great work.

Thanks. Nice not to have to spend too long on a feature like that. I think their £18,000 minimum audit fee is going to be the least of the audit committee’s worries once the penny drops. or in this case maybe more than half a billion pennies.


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