Councillor Brian Essex
Conservative group leader
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.