Those who are responsible for the conduct of public business and for spending public money are accountable for ensuring that public business is conducted in accordance with the law and proper standards, and that public money is safeguarded, properly accounted for and used economically, efficiently and effectively. In discharging this accountability, public bodies (both members and officers) are responsible for putting in place proper arrangements for the governance of their affairs and the stewardship of the resources at their disposal.
As a safeguard to ensure the proper discharge of this accountability, external auditors in the public sector give an independent opinion on public bodies’ financial statements. They may also review, and report on, aspects of public bodies’ arrangements to ensure the proper conduct of their financial affairs and to manage their performance and use of resources.
(Governance and Accountability in Local Council in England and Wales: a Practitioner’s Guide.)
Along with other local councils, Much Wenlock Town Council is required to submit an Annual Return to an appointed external auditor which:
(a) reports the annual accounts as approved by the Council
(b) certifies that the Council has discharged its statutory duties in relation to its financial affairs
(c) records that the external auditor has fulfilled his/her statutory responsibility
(d) informs the local taxpayer and elector about what and how their council has been doing over the last financial year
Much Wenlock Town Council’s external auditor is Mazars. Please note that contacting this firm could result in the Council incurring a charge. If you have a query concerning the Council’s financial affairs please contact the Town Clerk in the first instance.
SUMMARY OF ELECTORS’ RIGHTS
The basic position
By law any interested person has the right to inspect the council’s accounts. If you are entitled and registered to vote in local council elections then you (or your representative) also have the right to ask the appointed auditor questions about the council’s accounts or object to an item of account contained within them.
The right to inspect the accounts
When your council has finalised its accounts for the previous financial year it must advertise that they are available for people to inspect. Having given the council reasonable notice of your intentions, you then have 30 working days to look through the accounting statement in the Annual Return and any supporting documents. By arrangement, you will be able to inspect and make copies of the accounts and the relevant documents. You may have to pay a copying charge.
The right to ask the auditor questions about the accounts
You can only ask the appointed auditor questions about the accounts. The auditor does not have to answer questions about the council’s policies, finances, procedures or anything else not related to the accounts. Your questions must be about the accounts for the financial year just ended. The auditor does not have to say whether they think something the council has done, or an item in its accounts, is lawful or reasonable.
The right to object to the accounts
If you think that the council has spent money it should not have, or that someone has caused a loss to the council deliberately or by behaving irresponsibly, you can request the auditor to apply to the courts for a declaration that an item of account is contrary to law. You do this by sending a formal ‘notice of objection’ to the auditor at the address below. You must also send a copy to the council. The notice must be in writing. In it, you must tell the auditor why you are objecting and what you want the auditor to do about it. The auditor must reach a decision on your objection. If you are not happy with that decision, you can appeal to the courts.
You may also object if you think that there is something in the accounts that the auditor should discuss with the council or tell the public about in a ‘public interest report’. You must follow the same procedure as outlined in the previous paragraph. The auditor must then decide whether to take any action. The auditor does not have to, but usually will, give reasons for his/her decision and you cannot appeal to the courts. More information is available on the National Audit website (see contact details below).
You may not use this ‘right to object’ to make a personal complaint or claim against your council. You should take such complaints to your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau, local Law Centre or your solicitor. You may also be able to approach the Standards Committee of your local principal authority if you believe that a member of the council has broken the Code of Conduct for Members.
What else you can do
Instead of objecting, you can give the auditor information that is relevant to his/her responsibilities. For example, you can simply tell the auditor if you think that something is wrong with the accounts or about waste and inefficiency in the way the council runs its services. You do not have to follow any set time limits or procedures. The auditor does not have to give you a detailed report of any subsequent investigation, but will usually tell you the outcome.
A final word
Councils, and so local taxpayers, must meet the costs of dealing with questions and objections. In deciding whether to take your objection forward, one of a series of factors the auditor must take into account is the cost that will be involved. The auditor will only continue with the objection if it is in the public interest to do so. If you appeal to the courts, you might have to pay for the action yourself.
Who should you contact?
For more detailed guidance on electors’ rights and the special powers of auditors, copies of the publication Council Accounts – a guide to your rights are available by calling the National Audit Office on 020 7798 7000 or downloading from the website https://www.nao.org.uk/
If you wish to contact your council’s appointed external auditor please write to:
Cameron Wadell, Mazars LLP, The Rivergreen Centre, Aykley Heads, County Durham DH1 5TS.
2016/2017 external audit
This is the Notice of appointment of audit 2016/2017
Unaudited Annual Return year ended 31 March 2017
This is the notice of conclusion-of-audit-2016 and the right to inspect the Annual Return
This is the completed-audit-2016
This is the unaudited statement of accounts Annual Return 2015-2016
This is the Notice of appointment 2016
This is the completed statements of accounts Annual Return 2014/2015
In addition to submitting an Annual Return, local councils are required also to appoint an independent and competent internal auditor to review regularly whether systems of financial and other control are effective. The Council’s current Internal Auditor is Sue Hackett.
For further information please contact the Town Council’s Responsible Finance Officer:
Sharon Clayton BA (Hons) Fellow ILCM
Telephone number: 01952 727509