Wirral Council corrects £5m accounting errors following audit

Wirral Council has adjusted more than £5m in its financial records after independent inspectors found a number of errors.

An independent audit report by Grant Thornton has been published after it analysed the most recent council accounts covering the financial year from April 2022 to March 2023. Overall it was satisfied with the council’s reporting but raises some concerns.

In the report, it found a number of errors in the council’s budget for services leading to a change of £2.3m. More payments were then tested, with 18 out of an initial 74 having to be redone.

Six errors were also found in council invoices and non-salary related payments totalling £3.3m with one individual payment above £2.8m. This last payment was significant enough the accounts have had to be changed.

While auditors said fraud risk was low in both areas, they said it “may not be rebutted completely” and recommended the council review accrued payments while accounts are prepared “to ensure all expenditure is accounted for in the correct financial period.”

Grant Thornton also found a council asset was incorrectly accounted for though as it was valued at £199,000, this was considered insignificant by auditors. 

In the report, auditors raised concerns about how much the council’s financial accounts have had to be adjusted in the last year compared to previous years and this “was not clearly communicated in all cases” leading to more work to verify the accounts. However, auditors did find accounting of the council’s commercial activities were “deemed appropriate and in line with the code and accounting standards.” 

In 2021, Wirral Council needed to ask the government for emergency financial support but in 2022-23, it was able to increase its funds by £2.5m without resorting to doing this.

The review of council accounts still found the local authority is “continuing to face financial challenges and is in a difficult financial position financially” with challenging cuts to council budgets having to be made before April 2024. It also found risks due to interest rates and payments in the future linked to borrowing.

Council short-term borrowing has increased to £137m, up from £72m the previous year, with £14m paid back in 2022-23. Going forward though, auditors have asked that “the council proactively considers its debt levels” and the council said it is reviewing this policy with steps taken to reduce the cost of borrowing.

It was also found that there was “inadequate control” over accounts on its new payment system where “unauthorised or inappropriate changes” to financial data may not be traceable.

Auditors did not find any evidence of non-compliance with laws and regulations or any incidents in relation to fraud and requests related to banking, investments and borrowing organisations were all sent back confirming what auditors found.

The audit has been published ahead of an audit and risk management committee meeting on 12 December. An inspection report on its investments such as the Wirral Growth Company and regeneration won’t be published until 31 January, 2024.

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