Deep in Ed Balls’ fiefdom lies the Town of Morley; there the Town Council have come up with an extraordinary set of accounts. Quote:
‘Some of the 2009/10 figures cannot be disclosed due to confidentiality issues’
Try putting that on your set of accounts to HMRC and Companies House and see how far you get. Surely it cannot be legitimate not to detail expenditure or a closing balance in a balance sheet?
These people are a part of the ‘essential public services’ that forcibly take your money – and then feel that they are not obliged to tell you how they have spent it. This is the sort of chicanery that the TUC defends and will be campaigning on today.
The background to this saga was yet another Public Servant receiving a ‘Golden Good-bye’ which attracted the attention of some persistent and determined members of the Yorkshire Branch of the Libertarian Party.
Morley Council settled out of court with their former Town Clerk after losing a tribunal case but before the award determination took place. It was subject to a confidentiality clause but who requested that clause is confidential. The popular opinion is that she would have probably got more from the tribunal but that would have been in the full glare of publicity.
Our dogged researcher emailed the Audit Commission for an opinion as to whether these redacted accounts were legal – judging from the duff email links in the documents, misleading auto-responses and lack of acknowledgement from supposedly the correct email, they proved as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapots. No wonder Pickles is sending them to the knackers yard.
Whether this is illegal isn’t clear since an annual report isn’t obligatory as far as we are aware, however, there is no way an appointed auditor will wear this and Statutory Instrument 533 2003 makes it clear that the balance has to be published in the audited figures.
Was this a cunning ruse to be shown willing to apply to the contractual agreement under tort law only to be reluctantly overruled by the external auditor later in the year? If this is what they are doing, it is a cack handed way of doing it and an insult to the people of the town.
Eventually a reply arrived from the Audit commission – complete with ‘duff’ links.
Dear Mr xxxx
Thank you for your email.
I have forwarded your email to the appointed auditors for Morley Town Council, Mazars, and in particular a Stephen Christopher. He will respond to you in due course.
More information about the role of appointed auditors can be found on our website here: http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/loca … fault.aspx and http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/abou … eries.aspx.
Public Enquiries Officer – part of the Chief Executive’s office
Lime Kiln Close
Bristol BS34 8SR
Then another letter from the Audit Commission- this time from ‘Head Office’ in Millbank, London
Dear Mr XXXX
Thank you for your email to the Audit Commission regarding the 2009/10 accounts of Morley Town Council as presented in that council’s Annual Report published online.
I must stress that the accounts presented on the council’s website as part of the Annual Report are not the statutory accounts of the council. The annual report is not a statutory requirement and so is not regulated. One would hope, however, that any financial information presented in an annual report would be both complete and consistent with the audited statutory accounts of the body.
The council’s statutory accounts come in the form of an Annual Return which is subject to independent external audit. The council must publicly display the annual return, which includes both accounting and annual governance statements, for 20 working days. During that time you may ask the council any question you like about the accounts or to see any detail of them. There is certainly nothing in the legislation that supports partial disclosures of income or expenditure in the Annual Return and it is, indeed, unusual. So presuming the council’s annual return is complete, you should be able to find the information you seek there.
Local electors have rights in relation to the accounting statements. These include the right ‘to inspect the accounts…and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them.’ You may find the Commission’s guide – Councils Accounts Your Rights – helpful in detailing your rights and how to use them. It is accessible at http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/nati … 72006.aspx .
In case of access to potentially personal information which is protected, you can also ask the external auditor (see directory at http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/abou … itors.aspx to find your local auditor) to determine whether the information you seek is personal information or not.
You may also request to see the information you seek through your rights under Freedom of Information legislation.
I am copying this response to your council’s appointed auditor and to Morley Town Council for information.
I hope this is helpful.
‘Unusual’ – so the Audit Commission were not impressed then !
That, however, it is a bit misleading as the Council don’t have to display the actual audit return for 20 days – they only have to display a notice saying it can be inspected.
By now others, far more qualified in the arcane practices of Local Authority Accounting, were picking up the story.
Morley Town Council then evaded giving a direct answer to a Freedom of Information Request. Further correspondence with the Town Clerk failed to shed any light on the matter.
My reactions to his replies in red.
1. The balance sheet in the recently published annual report does not show a closing balance. MTC presumably sought advice on this. Which body advised that it was legal to redact the closing balance and what did they say?
The Town Clerk replies – The external auditors, Mazars LLP, were consulted verbally on this point.
Yes, but what did they say? It might have been “We don’t recommend it, but you could just leave it out of the annual report as it isn’t a statutory obligation”.
2. The annual report claims reasons of confidentiality for redacting 2010 general administration, total expenditure and closing balance. Is this related purely to the out of court settlement with K Barrett after losing the Employment tribunal in March 2009?
The Town Clerk replies – The redaction of figures in the Annual Report is related to the compensation award made to Mrs K Barrett.
That was straight forward enough, but the word “solely” is not included so it is still open to interpretation.
3. Which party proposed that the out of court settlement be on a confidential basis- the Morley Town Council Barrister or the Solicitor representing K Barrett?
The Town Clerk replies – As I was not in attendance at the conclusion of the Employment Tribunal, I cannot answer this question.
But I’m not asking the Town Clerk, I’m asking Morley Town Council via the Town Clerk. The Town Clerk doesn’t make decisions but is expected to record them.
4. If it was MTC that proposed confidentiality in the out of court settlement, what was the justification for doing so?
The Town Clerk replies – See answer to question 3 above.
See comment after answer 3 above!
5. Have Mazers been consulted in the matter of redacting the Annual Report Balance Sheet? If so, what was their expressed opinion?
The Town Clerk replies – See answer to question 1 above.
…and my corresponding comment!
6. Will the closing balance be redacted in the audited reports available later this year?
The Town Clerk replies – The complete Annual Return was displayed on the Town Council notice board between Friday, 20th August and Friday 3rd September.
Indeed it was, next to the censored Annual Report. The annual report remains, but for two weeks, Morleians would have been able to work out the figures.
7. Had I have visited the office during the pre-audit accounts inspection window up until July 28th, would I have found that the closing balance was redacted?
The Town Clerk replies – Yes.
Interesting! – that would have been breaking the law.
8. Did any electors or interested parties inspect the accounts during the July 2010 inspection window?
The Town Clerk replies – I do not see relevance in this question.
It is not up to you to see the relevance. You haven’t answered it either.
Why Morley Town Council is acting in this way with Public funds is bizarre, because they cannot carry on hiding public accounts like this and will have to publish on September 30th 2010. If they don’t and Mazers (the auditors) allow them to get away with this they should all be sacked as being unfit.
Funds have been extorted from the good people of Morley; and public sector employees see no moral reason why they should have to account for its expenditure? What is it that they are so frightened of revealing? Why has the local MP not raised questions in the House?
Perhaps becasue he is Ed Balls – Labour’s putative shadow Chancellor (or maybe his wife Yvette Cooper).
The Stench of the Rotten Boroughs still pervades the land.
Let us make this the lightening rod that will turf out the incumbents in favour of those with a more Libertarian stance in the local elections next May.
The ‘Morley’ Facebook is abuzz with this ‘ishoo’. Hopefully the Blogosphere will play its part and further publicise this disgraceful redaction – I doubt that we can rely on the media!
Andrew P. Withers.