Audit on council’s 2019/20 accounts still incomplete

Concerns that long delay is costing council hundreds of thousands of pounds, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre

Enfield Council faces mounting costs over audit delays that are having a knock-on effect on the work of its finance team.

Councillors raised the alarm after a report revealed the civic centre’s 2019/20 statement of accounts had still not been finalised as work on the following years’ audits continues, with the authority putting in extra money to tackle the backlog.

The update, presented to the general purposes committee on Wednesday, said external auditor BDO still needed to review property valuations, including on a block of land at Meridian Water, but could not provide a timeline for the work and was focusing on “other priorities”.

The opposition Conservatives have repeatedly criticised the council over delays to the 2019/20 accounts. In April 2021 they called on Labour’s previous cabinet member for finance to quit after it was revealed late accounts were set to cost the authority an extra £100,000. A new cabinet member for finance, Tim Leaver, took charge after last month’s local election.

James Newman, the council’s director of corporate finance, told this week’s meeting the audit was “slow” because BDO was currently focusing on NHS accounts. He said the council would complain to BDO over the delays, as the 2019/20 audit had not been prioritised by the firm.

But Joanne Laban, a Conservative committee member, claimed outstanding issues with the audit could have been resolved if they had been addressed by the council sooner.

Cllr Laban added: “When BDO are asking you for all these things, why are we getting £17,000 or £1million problems going back to 2019/20 when you have more resources to deal with this? […] Quite a lot of this is BDO, but a lot of it is down to us [the council].”

James said the ball was “very much in BDO’s court” in terms of when the accounts were finalised. He added that audit firms had brought in tighter requirements, meaning more work had to be done by councils.

In response to a question from Labour’s Ayten Guzel, James said the council was considering switching to a new auditor when the BDO contract ends.

Mike Rye, another Conservative, also raised concerns over the property valuation issues and asked about the impact on future years’ audit work.

James responded: “At the moment, we have a second chief accountant and additional team providing coverage on the open set of accounts, so clearly it is costing more money.

“It is holding up our ability to move on […] and spend time on that continuous improvement journey, and looking forward and building on what we are doing.”

Councillors also received an update on the audit of the 2020/21 statement of accounts and progress on the 2021/22 accounts before entering a private session to discuss risk management for the Meridian Water regeneration scheme.

BDO did not have a representative present at the meeting and has been approached for comment.