By STEVEN DOWNES, Editor, Inside Croydon
At some point this week, Croydon Council slipped its 2019-2020 accounts on to its website.
Six weeks later than they were required to do so by law – a special covid-19 dispensation said they should be available for public scrutiny from September 1 – there’s been no mention from the council’s press office (or “Media Relations Team”, as they have pompously titled themselves), nor any announcement on the news section of the website.
It’s almost as if the council, even “under new management”, hoped that no one would notice.
The draft accounts have been published without any report from the auditors.
Under the law, the public has a brief period in which to inspect the paperwork, go over the bills and ask questions of the auditors.
In other London boroughs, notably Lambeth but also Southwark, groups of residents have got together to exercise those rights and examine exactly how their Council Tax-payers’ money has been spent. Tirelessly, they have gone through the books, painstakingly line by line.
And now, Inside Croydon is asking its loyal readers to help us do just the same and carry out the first ever People’s Audit for Croydon. There surely cannot be a more important time to do this.
According to the paperwork accompanying the accounts, the public has until November 27 to visit the council offices to pore over the fine detail.
We’re asking that people in the borough with suitable experience and expertise – accountants, lawyers, people in business, students who want a “project”, council staff, past or present who understand how a local authority should work – come forward to take a long and detailed look at the accounts as they appear online, and then contact us to co-ordinate the examination of the figures and the questions to be put to the auditors.
We suggest that we need to work to our own deadline of November 17 to pull together a reasonable set of questions for Grant Thornton.
The accounts are now available here:
As the formal notice accompanying the accounts states:
“Notice is given that from October 19 to November 27 2020 between 9.30am and 4pm on weekdays any person may inspect, and make copies of the accounts and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers, receipts and other related documents of the council for the year ended March 31 2020.
“The accounts and other documents will be available for inspection at Bernard Wetherill House, 8 Mint Walk, Croydon, CR0 1EA by prior arrangement. Applications should be made initially by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.
“During this period, a local government elector for any area to which the accounts relate, or their representative, may question the auditor about the accounts, or make an objection to the accounts as set out in sections 26 and 27 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.
“Any objection, and the grounds on which it is made, must be sent to the auditor in writing… Any objection must state the grounds on which the objection is being made and particulars of:
i) any item of account which is alleged to be contrary to law; and
ii) any matter in respect of which it is proposed that the auditor could make a public interest report under section 24 of, and paragraph 1 of Schedule 7 to, the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.”
Of course, the auditors, Grant Thornton, are already issuing a Public Interest Report, based on what they have found after being given six months to go through the accounts.
We, merely the public, have just weeks to do the same, and with more limited access.
However, we know very well that Inside Croydon readers are intelligent, sensible, reasonable and resourceful people.
If you would like to help, in whatever way you are able, please email me at email@example.com, with “People’s Audit” in the subject field.
All offers of help and enquiries will be treated in confidence.
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