Thursday 22 February 2024
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Nottingham

Council faces growing public pressure over unpublished finances report

A Nottingham city councillor says he is ‘satisfied’ with steps being taken to address serious concerns over finances despite an independent report into the authority’s handling of public money being unpublished.

Accounting firm Ernst and Young (EY) reviewed the Labour-run authority’s books following the uncovering of significant misspending in the council’s Housing Revenue Account in 2021.

Millions of pounds strictly intended for council housing and tenants had been wrongly and unlawfully transferred to the general fund over a series of years beginning in 2014.

It is estimated the cost of the problem is around £51m, with inflation.

So far the council has only published a summary of the independent report, and council leader Cllr David Mellen (Lab) has said he too has not seen it in full.

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•  Councillor ‘disturbed’ by authority’s refusal to release finance report

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has been submitted asking that the full report be published, however, the council said a public interest test ruled in favour of not disclosing it.

During Full Council on Monday, September 11, a resident submitted a question to the authority in relation to the report.

The question asked if the chair of the Audit Committee, Cllr Sam Gardiner (Lab), was “content with the resolutions agreed upon” at a meeting in June when the report was discussed, but not disclosed.

The Labour administration was also asked: “Is it a routine practice for
the committee to make fiscal decisions using taxpayers’ money without a thorough knowledge of the facts?”

•  Nottingham City Council refuses to publish auditors report detailing financial concerns

Responding, Cllr Gardiner said: “I remain satisfied as to the appropriateness of the resolutions agreed at the Audit Committee on June 30 2023.

“The Audit Committee noted the outcomes of the controls review, specifically the findings of the controls assessment which underpins a conclusion Nottingham City Council is operating in a considerably weakened control environment which is not fit for purpose in allowing a local authority to enact effective financial stewardship.

“The Audit Committee also noted the immediate steps the council will undertake to address the findings. Audit Committee requested future updates on remediation work.

“Audit Committee discussed establishing a sub-group that can assist with remediation work. Audit Committee also wants to establish new panels, the remit of which will be established at a future meeting.

“Finally, the audit members want to voluntarily undertake a CIPFA self-assessment for the Audit Committee to provide assurances externally.

“It is worth noting the audit committee does have opposition within its membership and there was a closed-door session where councillors could ask any questions or seek clarity where they saw fit.”

Cllr Gardiner also said audit members had not taken any fiscal decisions, and were not asked to make a fiscal decision.

“The committee has listened to the advice of the professional officer, reviewed it, and agreed with a proposed course of action, but to be absolutely clear the committee was never asked to make a fiscal decision,” he added.

A petition has now been launched by a new campaign group called No Secrets Nottingham.

The group has been born out of past campaigns, including a campaign to protect three libraries from closure, spearheaded by Save Nottingham Libraries.

It is being supported by the Nottingham People’s Assembly.

Tom Unterrainer, one of the campaign’s coordinators, said: “It’s no secret that Nottingham City Council is in financial difficulties.

“It’s no secret that central government funding has been slashed over the last decade.

“It’s no secret that times are tough. I can’t see how our city will be improved by keeping the EY report a secret.

“Let’s see the truth of what happened and let’s open up a new chapter in our city where accountability, openness and democracy, and not secrecy, hold sway.”

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