Row over council committee’s finance report

Opposition councillors accuse council of ‘incompetence’ over late accounts, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre
Enfield Civic Centre

Opposition councillors refused to back an Enfield Council report amid concerns over late accounts and the running of the local authority’s finances.

The Conservative and Community First groups clashed with Labour over the report, which sets out the work of the general purposes committee in overseeing the council’s risk management framework, level of governance and internal control mechanisms.  

The report acknowledges the delay in filing the council’s accounts before the statutory deadline and says this was partly due to “a full reconciliation of data migration” that would “provide a better base for future years”.

It adds that the general purposes committee gave authority to the chair and the council’s head of resources to agree minor changes to the statement of accounts that may arise from outstanding review work being carried out by external auditor BDO.

But according to Community First, this was only agreed by the majority of Labour committee members in the face of opposition from the other parties.

Dino Lemonides, a Community First councillor, said he was “astonished” by the way the Labour administration had acted and claimed the committee had never been “forced to vote in this way before”. 

Cllr Lemonides, who is a qualified accountant and has served on the committee in previous years, said he had asked for his name to be withdrawn from the report, which he claimed gave the false impression that governance arrangements for Enfield were in order.

At a meeting in June, concerns were raised by opposition councillors that the committee was ignoring good governance practice outlined by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, which includes the recommendation that members meet privately with the external auditor to discuss the accounts without officers present.

When the report was presented to a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, 14th July, Tory leader Joanne Laban accused the Labour administration of “complete incompetence” and said the report failed to get across the “utter frustration” some members of the committee had with the finance department.

But Labour councillors hit back at the claims and blamed BDO for the late accounts.

Mary Maguire, cabinet member for finance and procurement, said the council was transparent about where the risks were and how the council was dealing with them. She thanked the committee for “giving the assurance we need that our finances are being used properly”.

Cllr Maguire claimed BDO had not finished auditing the accounts and said 45% of councils were in a similar position to Enfield.

Responding to the concerns raised by Community First about committee votes, Cllr Maguire said that majority votes were “how democracy works”.

Council leader Nesil Caliskan said she had confidence in senior council officers and thought they were doing a good job.

And Labour’s Mahym Bedekova, chair of the general purposes committee, told the full council meeting that members of the committee would have private sessions with the external auditor later this year.

Conservative and Community First councillors voted against the report, but it was agreed when members of the Labour administration voted in favour.