Coun­cil­lor Brian Es­sex

Con­ser­va­tive group leader

Rossendale Free Press - - Your Views -

COUN­CIL slammed by Au­di­tor’s Re­port (‘Damn­ing au­dit into coun­cil’s ac­counts’, Oc­to­ber 12).

Rossendale empty homes scan­dal hits the news again – this time it is the ex­ter­nal au­di­tor’s re­port, Grant Thorn­ton UK, re­port­ing to the res­i­dents on the bor­ough coun­cil’s, wait for it, re­port­ing on the coun­cil’s ac­counts for 2014/15. You may won­der why they have re­ported now.

Ex­ter­nal au­di­tors nor­mally ap­prove a coun­cil’s ac­counts and give a clean bill of health fairly rapidly. For a coun­cil to wait over three years is prac­ti­cally un­heard of and is a sign that ma­jor changes to the ac­counts have had to be made.

The ex­ter­nal au­di­tors de­clared that ‘sub­ject to fi­nal rep­re­sen­ta­tion our in­ten­tion is to is­sue a qual­i­fied ‘ad­verse’ Value for Money con­clu­sion in­di­cat­ing that the coun­cil did not have ad­e­quate ar­range­ments in place in 2014/ 15 to de­liver value for money in the use of re­sources.’

Res­i­dents will re­mem­ber that the com­pany was en­gaged by the coun­cil ( no ten­ders were sought) to re­fur­bish empty homes across East Lan­cashire. Grants could be ob­tained from Homes Eng­land if strict cri­te­ria were fol­lowed. On Jan­uary 30, 2015 the com­pany AAAW Ltd ceased trad­ing and the coun­cil was left with the en­su­ing li­a­bil­i­ties. The scale of those li­a­bil­i­ties was not re­vealed to Op­po­si­tion coun­cil­lors and the tax­pay­ers of Rossendale un­til June 2015 ( well af­ter the 2015 elec­tions).

Pri­vate Eye placed Rossendale in its Rot­ten Bor­oughs col­umn! The scheme to date has lost the coun­cil over £ 5 mil­lion and that in­cludes a con­tri­bu­tion of £ 300,000 from our neigh­bour­ing coun­cils to help us out!

Not one mem­ber of the Labour Cab­i­net has re­signed and the Labour leader stated that the de­lay in in­form­ing res­i­dents of the scale of the scan­dal was due to a wish to ‘sort it out’.

A po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion was started in 2015 but to date no charges have been made. An in­ter­nal re­port formed the ba­sis of an ac­tion plan and that has been re­ported to coun­cil­lors on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Good progress has been made to en­sure that checks and bal­ances are en­forced so that this scan­dal is not re­peated.

The coun­cil has an Over­view and Scru­tiny com­mit­tee, which is Labour con­trolled, but it re­fuses to in­ves­ti­gate and pro­vide the res­i­dents of Rossendale all the facts to what went wrong. The Coun­cil Tax pay­ers are foot­ing the bill and it is only right that they are given all the facts. I pro­posed at Bud­get-set­ting coun­cil back in Fe­bru­ary that a full fi­nan­cial re­port be printed on the Coun­cil Tax leaflet sent to ev­ery home in the Val­ley. Un­for­tu­nately, the Leader of the Coun­cil did not sup­port such a move and the pro­posal was de­feated by Labour coun­cil­lors.

This is why the Ex­ter­nal Au­di­tor’s Re­port is so im­por­tant. There will now, in the next five months, be a series of re­ports from Grant Thorn­ton cov­er­ing the an­nual ac­counts since 2014/ 15. I can as­sure res­i­dents that they will be thor­oughly ex­am­ined by all coun­cil­lors not just those in Op­po­si­tion but by the Con­trol­ling group.

Res­i­dents ex­pect noth­ing less.

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