More than a year and a half after it ended Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has still not completed the audit for the financial year 2019/20 it was revealed during this week’s quarterly audit committee meeting.
Audits for 2020/21 also remain uncompleted. Peter Grace, HBC’s Assistant Director of Financial Services and Revenues, said difficulties caused by the pandemic were the reason for the delays, and said the same situation exists in other councils.
Former Mayor Councillor Nigel Sinden then asked if the council or indeed councillors could get into trouble over the delayed audits: “Is there any way we could get into trouble for this, in that someone else has let us down?”
Mr Grace told councillors: “Because of Covid the government have extended the deadlines. We have met all our legislative requirements, we have published the accounts on the website and they are there for all to see. People have had the opportunity to look at those accounts and challenge them if necessary and there weren’t any challenges and no major issues we need to worry about as a council; no money has gone missing the accounts are true and fair as far as we can tell all the way through; our value for money opinion is still very good still, and I think you’ll see the same again in this year’s accounts.
“One of the key issues as you will see from the press across the country is council resilience: are we an ongoing council or are we going to go bankrupt? No we’re not going to go bankrupt and you will see that in the audit report. That isn’t to say we don’t need to make savings going forward. So getting into trouble? No.”
Councillor Andrew Batley asked: “The delay of the 2019/20 financials which we have been promised in 21 days—is that going to have a knock-on affect of the 2020/21 financials, or are they being done separately? and will that have a further affect on the 2021/22 financials or are they on track?”
Mr Grace told the meeting: “The auditors are working on the 2020/21 accounts and they will be coming in August or September, but we won’t get an opinion on those until December when it should have been by Setpember. That will impact us as we go through the budget process; we’ll be trying to do a budget at the same time as getting all the queries from the auditors, which isn’t ideal.
“If like last year they get distracted by Covid it could get delayed again until March and perhaps even longer, but they are trying to get back on track for the following year and again the government have extended those deadlines next year as well.”