Forensic audit report into council-owned development company set to be published after U-turn

A report into possible wrongdoing at a North East council’s development company now looks set to be made public, after local authority chiefs were pressed into a U-turn.

By Daniel Holland
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 10:14 am
A report into possible wrongdoing at Advance Northumberland now looks set to be made public.
A report into possible wrongdoing at Advance Northumberland now looks set to be made public.

Northumberland County Council says it will release redacted findings of the probe from auditors KPMG into Advance Northumberland “as soon as possible”.

The authority had previously insisted the much-discussed document would remain secret as it contained sensitive information, while it was also mistakenly claimed to be the subject of a police investigation earlier this year.

The forensic audit report was commissioned after the council’s chief executive, Daljit Lally, raised concerns last summer that Advance had inherited problems from its scandal-hit predecessor Arch.

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After a resident called last week for the council to make KPMG’s investigations public, members of the authority’s audit committee echoed that demand on Wednesday morning and were told that it could now be released once personal and commercially sensitive information is removed.

Tory councillor Nick Oliver called the report “pretty plain” and said the council “should be transparent” over it.

Peter Jackson, the council’s former Conservative leader, added: “As a committee we have had it circulated to us for several months now.

"None of us have seen anything that is surprising, it is a normal report with nothing contentious in it whatsoever in my view.

"I see no reason it should not be published as soon as possible.”

The council’s deputy leader, Richard Wearmouth, had earlier posted on Facebook to say that he backed the report being published and that “taxpayers should be able to read a report that they paid for and understand that Advance Northumberland was found by KPMG to be a well run organisation”.

Stephen Watson, chair of the audit committee, said he believed the contents of the report would not be damaging to the county council and that “it is probably better for the council to be seen to be putting these things out there in the public domain than not putting them out”.

Jan Willis, the council’s executive director of finance, confirmed that she had already requested that the authority’s information governance team review the report and advise whether it can be released, either fully or in a redacted form – but that “whatever we can publish will be published as soon as possible”.

She said: “The intention had been to publish whatever we are able to publish when that report is considered by this committee. But if the committee are happy for me to release a redacted version of the report ahead of it being considered here then I am more than happy to do so.

“But that is already in hand and I will advise the committee once I have a view from the information governance team.

“It is not just a matter of GDPR and protection of personal data, there may also be commercially sensitive details in there relating to the company. I would also need to ensure the Advance Northumberland board is cited and are comfortable with that information being in the public domain.”