Reading Borough Council (RBC) has published draft accounts for the year ending 31 March 2016 and they are available on the council’s website, tucked away in the policies, finance and legal information pages.
The Draft Statement of Accounts is 123 pages long and may not be everyone’s idea of bedtime reading. As well as detailed financials there is a good round up of RBC’s year and the challenges of the year ahead in the narrative statement.
The governance arrangements for local authorities today are very different from those of over 100 years ago.
George Lovejoy (1808-1883) was a well known bookseller and printer in London Street. His shop was where RISC’s World Shop is now (pictured). In the second half of the nineteenth century, he was one of the auditors of Reading corporation’s accounts. He came into conflict with the council over expenditure included in the accounts.
Lovejoy claimed in 1857 the right not only to declare the borough accounts to be technically correct (which they were) but also to pass judgement upon whether certain expenditures were legitimate [ref 1].
Members of the public and electors have certain rights in the audit process which are set out in full in the Notice of Inspection. In summary, between 1 July 2016 and 11 August 2016:
- any person can, ‘on reasonable notice’, inspect the accounts and certain related documents,
- a local government elector for the area of the Council may ask the auditor questions,
- a local government elector for the area of the Council may object to the accounts.
The National Audit Office (NAO) sets out some principles for using these rights responsibly:
You must read and inspect the accounts and ask relevant questions before objecting. Objecting to your council’s accounts is a serious matter.
The final accounts are expected to be approved by the Audit and Governance committee on behalf of councillors in September. The final accounts will then be published on the RBC website.