Call for ‘council heads to roll’ as accounts delayed

Councillor Mary Maguire
Councillor Mary Maguire, the cabinet member for finance, has been blamed by opposition councillors for the council’s failure to submit its accounts on time

Report by Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Both opposition groups on Enfield Council have called for the Labour councillor in charge of finance to resign after the borough’s accounts were late for a third year in a row.

Conservative leader Joanne Laban said it was “appalling” that the council had missed the statutory deadline for the accounts sign-off, despite racking up debts of almost £1billion.

An update provided for the general purposes committee revealed there had been a “delay to council and [external auditor] BDO meeting the statutory deadline of 30th November” for publication of the final, audited accounts from financial year 2019/20.

It came after BDO flagged up several issues with the audit process, including delays in obtaining an acceptable audit trail and accounts analysis, as well as incorrect responses in sample evidence. Cllr Laban said: “The cabinet member for finance [Mary Maguire] should resign over the mismanagement of the accounts. The fact that Enfield Council could not produce an audited set of completed accounts on time for a third year in a row is appalling.

“The council cannot blame coronavirus either, because the government gave local authorities more time to finish the accounts this year. The delays that the auditor had with obtaining acceptable audit trails is alarming and unacceptable. Heads should roll for this incompetence.”

The Tories are also warning Enfield could suffer the same fate as Croydon Council, which filed a section 114 notice in early November – effectively declaring itself bankrupt – after racking up £1.5billion of debt.

Community First, the new opposition group made up of four former Labour councillors, is also calling on Cllr Maguire to step down over the delay to the submission of the council’s accounts. Chase ward councillor Dino Lemonides, a former cabinet member for finance, said: “Cllr Maguire, the current cabinet member for finance, lacks the experience and understanding of finance to carry out her role effectively. Our residents deserve better.”

According to the council’s recent update, relatively few local authorities have finished their audits as they are facing a tougher “audit environment” this year. The report reveals the council had lost two employees with specialist local government accounting skills before the Covid-19 pandemic struck and had trouble finding replacements.

A council spokesperson said: “Enfield Council places the highest possible importance on delivering quality financial reports backed up by robust, independent audits. These processes play a crucial role in ensuring that the council responds in the best possible way to the financial pressures and demands we currently face.

“Our statement of accounts for the 2019/20 financial year was completed well before the deadline for submission to the external auditors and published on our website in July. As a result of unforeseen ongoing staffing resource issues, the significant additional financial and accounting pressures resulting from the council’s response to the Covid-19 national emergency and delays caused by pressures being experienced by our external auditors, the final sign-off of our accounts has not yet been completed.

“Although these issues are affecting many other councils in this extraordinary year, including some other London boroughs, Enfield Council is still doing everything possible to ensure the final stage of the accounts process is completed.

“Our external auditors have commented that we are taking the right approach, support our endeavours, and have indicated that although the audit is still in progress they have been clear with the council that everything looks to be in order for the issuing of an unqualified opinion when the audit is formally completed.”