Auditors slam SSDC pay off
Today SSDC released details of the auditors initial review of the accounts for 20/21. They are still not signed off. This included a not very satisfactory assessment of a payout that SSDC made to a senior executive who left the authority. The Leveller understands that this was not Alex Parmley, the former CEO.
Note 40 to the 2021/22 accounts show that a sum of £109,000 was paid to an unnamed individual during 21/22. We understand the payout being criticised is the £109,000 which was arranged in 20/21 but not paid out until 21/22.
Grant Thornton note that “during 2020/21, the Council entered into a settlement agreement with a senior officer. This resulted in the officer leaving the employment of the authority with a substantial settlement payment. From our enquiries of management, we have concerns that there was a lack of due process, insufficient records were maintained to evidence how the agreement was reached and that the agreement does not reflect value for money.”
Grant Thornton add that approval of the sign off of the agreement did not follow Financial Regulation requirements. Nor did it follow the Council’s own Constitution. The Council did not obtain legal advice, and the Monitoring Officer and S151 Officer were also not aware of the agreement.
Chief Executive Jane Portman responded to the Grant Thornton report: “It is our duty to ensure that we deliver value for money for South Somerset. We accept and regret that the management controls that were in place did not operate as they should have done on this occasion. The controls have been reviewed by management. A revised procedure that takes these findings into account will be recommended to our next meeting of Council. We are recommending that our members endorse and support all of recommendations included in the report in all areas where weaknesses were identified. This matter has been taken extremely seriously and it has been investigated to the fullest possible extent to ensure we can move forward with confidence that such incident cannot occur again.”
What is missing, as so often with this authority, is any sanction. There is no suggestion in the responses from SSDC that those who got this very badly wrong, will be held to account.
Which leads us on to Grant Thornton’s assessment of the audit of the 20/21 accounts.
The 2021 accounts have still not been finalised and signed off by the auditors. The last update suggested accounts would be signed by the end of August. The auditors are now saying some time in September. They are already a year late.
The auditors had plenty to say about that too. Perhaps not surprisingly as it directly impacts on their own work. They said “the council failed to produce a complete and accurate set of financial statements for the year ending 31 March 2021. There was insufficient urgency given to responding to audit queries with other activities being prioritised. This was compounded by a lack of finance team capacity and poor quality working papers to support the figures in the financial statements in a number of areas. Management had not implemented several recommendation made a s a result of the 19/20 audit which were aimed at addressing weaknesses in processes….”
The SSDC Executive Member for Finance and Legal Services is Peter Seib. He has been given a similar role at Somerset County Council.