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To dream the impossible dream…

Pipe Roll of 1194

The first Reading Borough Council (RBC) audit and governance committee of 2020 will take place on Thursday 30 January. Council officers told the committee in September that they anticipated that audits of RBC’s accounts for the years ended 31 March 2018 and 31 March 2019 would be completed by the end of 2019. We are still waiting, and yet again hopes that accounts production was under control have been dashed.

The report going to Thursday’s committee mysteriously states that, although the 2017/18 audit proceeded well at first:

EY [auditors Ernst & Young] have…, temporarily paused their audit of the 2017/18 accounts due to a need to respond to key priorities elsewhere, and are due back on site on February 17th.

The committee has a standing agenda item for an external auditor report.

Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2019

RBC explain that capacity issues and competing priorities caused the delay in completing the accounts for the year ended 31 March 2019. These included:

  • 2017/18 audit issues,
  • agreeing the medium term financial plan (presented at the December RBC policy committee for approval for consultation),
  • resolving a number of systems issues.

The committee report does not go into detail about why that which seemed so achievable in September became unachievable as time passed by, and the mention of systems issues is very concerning. The report is also silent on the anticipated audit fee for either year’s accounts.

At the September meeting everyone was happy, although perhaps the no-show by auditors was ominous in retrospect. At that meeting Councillor Stevens had said:

None of us underestimate the turmoil you’ve been through over the last couple of years.

We are expecting now an acceleration [in accounts production] which hopefully means we are getting back to where we should be.

We must absolutely make sure that we have a solid finance team doing this, you get the resources you need and we don’t in any way revert back to the sort of problems we had, again.

[at 1:15:43]

Deputy chair of the committee,Councillor Richard Davies added:

On behalf of the Labour side, I echo entirely what you said and this is a really welcome report.

That, together with what we heard earlier about journals [in the internal audit quarterly update], gives us confidence that, what we’ve been saying, the fact that we’ve fessed up to the issues we had, we’ve made major changes and we expect to see massive improvement. That is coming through now and I’m sure the people of Reading are going to be much happier when we tell them about it [chuckle].

[at 1:16:42]

This time last year

Committee chair councillor David Stevens had delegated authority to sign off the accounts for the year ended 31 March 2017 at the January 2019 audit and governance committee . The committee felt that the accounts were almost complete but they were not signed off until July. This meant that in February last year, when a full council meeting agreed both council tax and  budget, the accounts for 2016/17 and 2017/18 had not been signed off.

This year, it seems possible that, once again, there will be two years’  accounts not signed off when the council sets tax and budget for 2020/21.

The statutory government deadline for the final sign off of local authority accounts is 31 July of the same year; that is,  accounts for the year to 31 March 2018 should have been signed off by 31 July 2018.

The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha (1972).

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go …

The audit and governance committee meeting will take place at 6.30 pm on Thursday 30 January at the Civic Offices, Bridge Street, Reading, RG1 2LU and is expected to be webcast.

  1. RBC audit and governance committee 30 January 2020 papers & webcast
  2. RBC audit & governance committee 24 January 2019 papers & webcast
  3. No-show from external auditors at audit and governance committee
  4. Reading Borough Council’s 2016/17 accounts arrive at their final destination


  1. in 1988 an Indian shipowner published a scheme for a 3,000 passenger cruise liner called The Ultimate Dream. Cynics termed it the Impossible Dream and it is true that it was never built – but the first 3,000 passenger ship was built in 1999 and now the largest are over 5,000 passengers.
    So no such word as impossible but let us hope we do not wait 15 years for the RBC dream to come true!

  2. Would like to know more about the pipe roll if you have anything please.

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