Inspecting the Accounts of your Council and also getting information about the Common Good

In June or July each year the Local Authority should put a public notice in the local
newspaper. This will be headed up:
Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 – Draft Accounts year to 31 March 200X
This will give the place and dates when the draft accounts of the Council can be inspected.
Anyone can take copies of extracts of these, and all books, deeds, contracts, vouchers and
receipts will also be made available. Enquiries concerning this will be directed to a
designated officer of the council who will be named on the public notice.
The second part of the notice gives information about who is the auditor (which may be
Audit Scotland or a firm of accountants) and the date when any objection about the draft
accounts needs to be filed.
The first thing to do is to write off to the named officer of the council (usually the Director of
Finance) and tell him when you propose to attend and what you want to see.
If you are specific about what you want, then there can be no excuses about not producing
the documents! A list may include things like:
1. All vouchers and receipts relating to the income and expenditure of the Oldburgh
Common Good Fund;
2. A list of the assets of the Oldburgh Common Good Fund, and all of the title deeds relating
thereto;
3. All vouchers and receipts relating to the income and expenditure of the Oldburgh Public
Hall, if not included in the above;
4. The title deeds of the Oldburgh Public Hall, Oldburgh Park and Oldburgh Common, if not
included in the above.
The purpose of points 3 and 4 is to get the income and expense and the deeds of property
which may be Common Good, but is not accounted for as Common Good by the council.
Based on this information, you should now know what the income is, what it was spent on
and what assets (the Council thinks) are Common Good. By looking at the other title deeds
of the public buildings and open space within the burgh, and applying the definition of
Common Good provided by the Scottish Parliament, you can now find out if there is any
property which is Common Good and not accounted for as such.
In the event that you think there is anything wrong, then the first thing is to give the council a
chance to confirm or deny your suspicions by writing to the Director of Finance.
The next thing is to send an objection and a statement of the grounds of objection to the
auditor, named in the notice, and copies to the Controller of Audit of the Accounts
Commission, whose address is also on the notice.
Copies must also be sent to the Council and any officer concerned. I normally send copies
to the Chief Executive, Chief Legal Officer and Chief Financial Officer as well as each of the
local councillors to satisfy this.
The objection could be something like:
Scottish Local Authority – Draft Accounts for the year to 31 March 200X
In accordance with s101(2) (a) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 I hereby lodge
objection to the above accounts on the following grounds:
Heritable property gifted to the former Oldburgh has not been included within the assets of
the Oldburgh Common Good Fund. Consequently the assets of the Oldburgh Common
Good Fund are understated and the assets of the council are overstated.
Income derived from the assets of the Oldburgh Common Good Fund has not been
accounted for within the Common Good Fund, and consequently the income is understated
and the income of the council is overstated.
Expenditure of the Oldburgh Common Good Fund has been incurred other than with regard
to the interests of the inhabitants of Oldburgh and such expenditure is contrary to the
provisions of statute.
You should provide sufficient detail to enable the auditor to understand what the point you
are making is. You may also wish to request an opportunity to have a meeting with the
auditor to explain your points more fully. If so, put that request in your letter.
You will probably then be invited to a meeting with the auditor at about the end of August or
the beginning of September. Remember that the council’s accounts need to be signed-off by
30 September, so the Auditor won’t adjust the accounts or anything unless the effect of the
objection is material to the accounts of the council.
Sometimes the auditor will inform you that, although the effect of your objection was not
material, he will ask the council to make the adjustments in the following year’s accounts to
rectify any errors and mistakes. If so check that they do this the next year!
Sometimes, of course, the auditor decides that you are just being a nuisance by bringing up
objections about a few thousand pounds, when the council has income and assets of
several millions, and (politely) tells you so and doesn’t do anything about your objection.
Keep at it, you can bring up the same issues year after year and the quantification of the
mistake will multiply over these years, if it is not fixed.
Let me know how you get on!
James Perman
james@perman.co.uk
21 June 2008

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One thought on “Inspecting the Accounts of your Council and also getting information about the Common Good

  1. James,
    Kirstin Scott who was at Lanark with the small Selkirk contingent, raised an objection, the outcome of which is below.
    The auditor is taking it forward, so apart from meeting with her, we are getting what we want. Your advice was used as a template, so thanks. Our omission to send to the named people was our own fault, but we have next year to get it right if they don’t improve.
    Lindsay

    Kirstin

    I met with the Council’s External Auditor on 27 august 2009 to discuss your objection.

    I am enclosing a copy of the notice published by the Council regarding the inspection arrangements and the action to be taken by an “interested person” to object to the Council’s Accounts. You will note the requirement on the “interested person” to send their objection to the Controller of Audit by 17 August 2009 and copy that to me. As you did not lodge your objection with the Controller of Audit, it does not conform to the statutory requirements and is consequently not valid.

    The External Auditor has confirmed however that she will treat your e-mail as a complaint which will be investigated and I have indicated from the Council’s point of view a willingness to seek a resolution to the issues that you have raised. Accordingly, the Council will now research the issues you have raised and respond to you within 28 days – that response will be copied to the External Auditor.

    The effect of this course of action is that your complaint will be investigated and responded to to the satisfaction of the External Auditor but it will not constitute a formal objection under Section 101 of the Act and will not impact on the timetable for the certification of the Accounts.

    I am bound to say that given the assistance and cooperation given by my staff during the inspection period, I am disappointed you felt it necessary to attempt to lodge a formal objection to the Accounts. That assistance and cooperation would have extended to attempting to resolve the matters raised in your complaint without recourse to the formal objection route. I would also add that had you at any time during your extensive discussions with Paddy Fagan indicated that you wished to lodge an objection, you would have been given clear advice and information on how to validly do that.

    Sandy Brown

    Chief Financial Officer

    Scottish Borders Council

    Council Headquarters

    Newtown St. Boswells

    Melrose

    TD6 0SA

    DD 01835 825012

    F 01835 825011

    E sbrown@scotborders.gov.uk

    http://www.scotborders.gov.uk

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