COUNCIL chiefs have told how they are putting their house in order after an audit report criticised the local authority for failing to comply with financial management and procedures concerning contracts and budgetary controls.
Bolsover District Council has accepted criticisms from a 2011/12 Audit Commission report and argued these were based on a failure to follow procedures and there was nothing underhand and it has made significant improvements in the last ten months in the quality of its accounts, addressed concerns over contracts and tendering and has put new measures in place.
Council leader Eion Watts said: “We’re not looking to defend blame. We’re looking to put right what was wrong. The criticism is about the process and matters were being addressed before this report. It’s about a failure of process and nothing underhand.”
The report highlighted financial control weaknesses around the governance of contracts and in budgetary control arrangements and a lack of responsibility in service departments that undermined the council’s ability to show it was securing an economic efficiency in procuring services.
Criticisms included a failure to place adverts for tenders, officers accepted incomplete bids, outcomes of tender evaluations were not reported to members, files were incomplete, variations were not agreed and overspends were not reported, and work was done and invoices paid before contracts were in place.
But the council is working with the Audit Commission and has put measures in place for 2012/13 including a training programme, a financial team to resolve issues, meetings to ensure contracts are effectively coordinated and officers are reviewing the council’s schedule of creditor payments and its chief financial officer has requested an internal audit.
It also reported a significant improvement in the quality of its accounts and feels it is making good progress in addressing Comprehensive Spending Review restraints.
District Auditor Sue Sunderland, who put together the findings, added that she has since been grateful to the council for its constructive approach to the audit and that she has been reassured by the council’s positive response so it is better able to demonstrate value for money and transparency.
The council’s newly appointed Director of Corporate Resources Bryan Mason accepted that the council has overpaid locally for services and supplies but argued the council has still made savings.
He said: “Last year’s external audit gave us a good kicking but this year it’s been about working with auditors to address problems. There is a clear message that we’re sorting our problems out and putting our house in order.”