LAST year’s Slough Borough Council (SBC) accounts are still not signed off – but progress has been made, a committee has been told.

In March 2020, the Observer reported that councillors at an audit and corporate governance committee grilled external auditors for making little progress on completing the 2018/19 financial statements – which was called ‘reputationally damaging’ to SBC by councillor Waqas Sabah (Labour: Farnham), chair of the meeting.

At a follow up meeting on August 3 (Monday), members were told by Julie Masci, external auditor at Grant Thornton, that the audit report is nearly completed – but is still waiting for some ‘outstanding information’ from council officers and third party companies such as bank confirmations.

She added that following on from the last meeting, a new timetable and bringing in an experienced team to complete the last phase of the audit.

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So far, the audit has found weaknesses and risks within the council’s involvement with the Slough Children’s Trust Service and ‘adequate arrangements were not in place to support informed decision-making and performance management’.

This included informal decision-making on the financial information of the Trust that was shared and discussed in committee meetings with scrutiny in 2018/19.

The report has also made recommendations for councillors and officers to date their declarations of interest records and include a review process over invoices before they are sent out to clients – with SBC responding that these issues will be reviewed and implemented.

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Julie Masci added that she still awaits to publish her final report on the council’s building, the Observatory House, on the acquisition of it being ‘unlawful expenditure’ – but anticipates there are no areas of concerns due to lack of evidence.

Expressing his concerns, councillor Safdar Ali (Labour: Central) asked if SBC has improved on the weaknesses identified in the 2017/18 report.

Julie Masci responded: “I think we have to recognise that the council is a bit on a journey in terms of some of the issues that have been identified in previous years accounts.

“Some of those issues are continuing to be seen in the audit we are undertaking currently – but some of those things are quick fixes and some will take a little bit of time to resolve.

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“It’s important that we work with and develop that relationship with officers to help them on that improvement journey.”

She added: “I think there’s some work to do – but certainly the intention and desire is there to improve.”

Cllr Ali said: “I understand what Julie is saying that some of the issues ongoing takes time and some are quick fixes – but surely if the problem existed in 2017/18, this is 2020.

“We should have a system by now for those issues to be overcome.”

The chair of the meeting, Cllr Sabah, said the accounts should be ready by the end of August.