Friday, September 17, 2010

The Auditor Replies

In a letter from Grant Thornton I received some answers to my questions though I feel some of these aren't relevant to the actual question.

First question:

On page 7.- 3. The Council's Governance Framework

The following is stated:

"The Town Council has a Constitution, which comprises (inter alia) of: It then lists all the parts of the Constitution."

"The Constitution is regularly reviewed and updated on an annual basis. The latest review was in May 2010
and the current version is V3"

Question: Why aren't these available on the Town Council website?

Answer from Grant Thornton:

snrednek says: The problems with the website have been going on for ages. I wrote on 16th February 2010 about the unavailability of the Constitution. So what about from 16th February 2010 until now? Obviously Grant Thornton are only relaying what the Town Council is saying.

Second Question:
"The Council published its forward plan in March 2010."

I cannot find this Forward Plan. It has not been published in the Priorities magazine. Nor has it been published on the Town Council website. There has been no public consultation on this alleged document.

Question: Has this Forward Plan actually been published and made available to the public?
Question: Were the public properly consulted over the Forward Plan?

Answer from Grant Thornton:

snrednek says: So the Town Council made this available at the Town Council Offices (probably hidden under the counter), in the Library (somewhere) and at the St Neots Museum. In the admission by the Town Council the website and Priorities are not mentioned. Again Grant Thornton are just passing on the reply from the Town Council.

Third Question:
"The Council has identified and communicated the Council’s vision of its purpose and intended outcomes for citizens and service users through the Forward Plan."

Question: As there has been no public consultation and the Forward Plan isn't readily available how can this statement be true?
Question: As the Town Council states there is a Forward Plan, has the Town Council communicated the outcomes of the previous forward plan(s)?

Answer from Grant ThorntonGrant Thornton did NOT to answer these questions.

Fourth Question:

"The Council seeks to establish clear channels of communication with all sections of the community and other stakeholders, ensuring accountability and encouraging open consultation by:

(a) Publishing a newsletter (Priorities) four times a year."

According to the Annual Town Meeting minutes in answer to question I was informed by the Town Mayor that: "Priorities Magazine is NOT a Town Council publication".

Question: Is Priorities a Town Council publication?

(b) The Council seeks views from the community by questionnaire and its website."

Question: I have never seen any questionnaire in Priorities or via its website. How can the Town Council justify this statement?

Answers from Grant Thornton:

snrednek says: Well I got one right over Priorities. On questionnaires I get an answer that I feel doesn't tally with reality. The Town Council loves the Catch 22 situation. The Forward Plan is virtually unavailable. How am I supposed to reply to a Forward Plan that isn't even discussed at the Town Meeting? This answer to the questionnaires question is just another unabashed reply from the Town Council.

Fifth Question:

Page 3 - Budget Comparison between for the year ended 2010.

Under this heading it says: "The following shows a comparison with the budget and out-turn figures for 2009/10."

I cannot tally the budget figures given to the original budget passed in January 2009. These are a whole new set of figures.

Question: How are members of the public able to hold this Town Council to account when different figures are published to those originally agreed?

Answer from Grant Thornton:

snrednek says: This answer doesn't tally with the original question. The original budget figures given do not tally with the budget figures given in the accounts. I never asked about budget monitoring. This answer is a non answer by Grant Thornton and is rubbish.

Sixth Question:
Page 19 - Related Party Transactions

In an answer to a question to the Annual Town Meeting I was informed: "The Town Council charges the Swimming Pool Trust for grass cutting and officers' time spent at meetings and preparation of accounts."

In the annual report the Town Council only admits to "administration". No mention of grass cutting.

According to the Charity Commission website the accounts the Town Council prepares for the Swimming Pool Trust are 191 days overdue.

Question: The Town Council informs the public that it is a related party, custodian of the site and is paid to prepare the accounts. As these accounts haven't been filed on time is the Council doing its job?

Answer from Grant Thornton: 

snrednek says: I thought I was pushing this one. As a charity the Swimming Pool Trust is unaccountable to the people of St Neots. Whilst all the Town Councillors are 
In conclusion: I quite understand the Auditor is appointed by the Town Council and is therefore the client of the Town Council rather than the client of those who actually pays the bills - the Council Taxpayer. It is therefore hard for me to expect Grant Thornton will look after Council Taxpayers. This is the problem with the Coalitions plans for local government. By abolishing the Audit Commission and relying on the arm chair weidos to hold the Councils to account, the Coalition has missed out on how the concerned resident is supposed to hold these Councils to account when they publish information and not tell anyone or change information at a whim. 

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