Parish councils persistent failures a major concern

August 17, 2012 12:09 PM

Across England  9,449 parish councils serve around 15 million residents and together they control a budget of around £500 million. But while larger organisations such as district councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan and London boroughs are subject to a good deal of scrutiny, the spending of parish councils has gone mainly undetected.

Parish councils are required to prepare their accounting statements in accordance with statutory requirements and timetables, as set out in the Accounts and Audit Regulations (England) 2011. But not all parish councils have been playing ball.

Last December the Audit Commission produced a report that detailed their concerns regarding the financial management of a minority of parish councils. According to the Audit Commission, in 2010-11 only 8,884 out of 9,449 parish councils had their accounts signed off, meaning that an astonishing 565 had not. More worryingly still, 14 parish councils failed to publish an audited annual return for at least three years.

The Audit Commission concluded that:
These parish councils are not providing the basic level of accountability that local electors are entitled to. It is unacceptable that parish councils should fail persistently to produce accounts, yet still be able to receive and spend public money.

Such widespread failure among parish councils to get their accounts signed off poses risks that local taxpayers should not have to face. Eight out of ten whose accounts only received a qualified opinion in 2010-11, failed to receive an 'unqualified' opinion because  auditors “identified weaknesses in the arrangements for assessing and managing risks.”

It is ridiculous that so many parish councils persistently fail to produce an annual return yet are still able to claim a precept. While most other public bodies publish payments to suppliers over £500 and are generally cooperating with the transparency agenda (Nottingham City Council the shameful exception) these parish councils are “not providing the most basic level of accountability”.

Local taxpayers have a right to see how their money is being spent and all parish councils should meet this most basic obligation.Across England  9,449 parish councils serve around 15 million residents and together they control a budget of around £500 million. But while larger organisations such as district councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan and London boroughs are subject to a good deal of scrutiny, the spending of parish councils has gone mainly undetected.

Parish councils are required to prepare their accounting statements in accordance with statutory requirements and timetables, as set out in the Accounts and Audit Regulations (England) 2011. But not all parish councils have been playing ball.

Last December the Audit Commission produced a report that detailed their concerns regarding the financial management of a minority of parish councils. According to the Audit Commission, in 2010-11 only 8,884 out of 9,449 parish councils had their accounts signed off, meaning that an astonishing 565 had not. More worryingly still, 14 parish councils failed to publish an audited annual return for at least three years.

The Audit Commission concluded that:
These parish councils are not providing the basic level of accountability that local electors are entitled to. It is unacceptable that parish councils should fail persistently to produce accounts, yet still be able to receive and spend public money.

Such widespread failure among parish councils to get their accounts signed off poses risks that local taxpayers should not have to face. Eight out of ten whose accounts only received a qualified opinion in 2010-11, failed to receive an 'unqualified' opinion because  auditors “identified weaknesses in the arrangements for assessing and managing risks.”

It is ridiculous that so many parish councils persistently fail to produce an annual return yet are still able to claim a precept. While most other public bodies publish payments to suppliers over £500 and are generally cooperating with the transparency agenda (Nottingham City Council the shameful exception) these parish councils are “not providing the most basic level of accountability”.

Local taxpayers have a right to see how their money is being spent and all parish councils should meet this most basic obligation.

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