An update to the Tuesday, November 24, cabinet meeting for the body, made up of Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle councils, revealed that the external auditors are issuing an unqualified value for money opinion for the 2019-20 financial year.
This is the opinion that the auditors are required to form as to whether the authority has made proper arrangements for securing economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources.
The unqualified opinion means that it had ‘proper arrangements to ensure it took properly informed decisions and deployed resources to achieve planned and sustainable outcomes for taxpayers and local people’.
However, Cameron Waddell, of Mazars, said: “I’m sure you’ve all read the report and we do highlight the scope for a number of improvements around the process for producing the accounts and the underlying quality assurance arrangements.
“You can see the number of adjustments, I’m not going to labour that point, I think it’s quite clear from the report.”
The document states that while the firm had the full cooperation of management during the audit, it ‘did experience a number of difficulties, for example, slow response time to queries and requests for information as well as poor quality accounts due to a significant number of errors (note: 79 general errors were raised during the casting process), incorrect accounting treatments and numerous versions of the same working paper obtained to correct an error’.
It later adds: ‘There are numerous errors that have been highlighted as part of the audit that should have been picked up as part of a quality control review of the accounts, for instance, double counting of levy income, omission/misclassification of levy income, missing 2018/19 figures etc.’
The combined authority’s chief finance officer, Janice Gillespie, said: “I absolutely take on board the improvement we need to make around quality assurance and I have already begun working on a plan with my colleagues in the North of Tyne constituent authorities in order to get some improvements on that.
“What I would say is we’ve seen some of the impact of becoming the accountable body for the LEP (local enterprise partnership) earlier this year and the whole challenge around managing capacity through the pandemic. Notwithstanding that, we will look to make improvements around the process.”
North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll added: “It’s excellent to have an unqualified value for money opinion.
“Having taken on becoming the accountable body for the LEP during a pandemic in a brand-new organisation while handing over the accounts for the joint transport committee, well done to the team.”