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City council finance officers are shown the door

City council finance officers are shown the door

🕔17.Jan 2012

A number of Birmingham City Council finance officers whose work fell below required standards have been removed from their jobs.

Council leader Mike Whitby confirmed that action had been taken after external auditors hit out at “significant difficulties” with the local authority’s 2010-11 accounts which they found contained “material errors”.

The annual accounts have still not been signed off by District Auditor Mark Stocks, even though they have been with him and his team since the end of June last year.

After making initial checks and pointing out errors, Mr Stocks demanded re-worked accounts, which were presented to him at the end of August 2011. However, he found further errors and said the balance sheets for Birmingham’s £3.5 billion budgets were not supported by appropriate working papers.

Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) told a cabinet meeting that the challenges exposed by the District Auditor were being addressed.

He added: “Improvements have been made in the department and those people who were unable to reach the standards required are no longer in that department.”

He did not say how many officers were involved, whether they had been sacke or simply moved to another department at the council.

The slip-up is deeply embarrassing for Coun Whitby and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition he leads,which prides itself on fiscal responsibility and balancing the books. In 2008-09, Mr Stocks issued similar dire warnings and eventually signed off the council’s accounts with a qualified opinion.

Improvements were put in place and there were no problems in 2009-10 when the accounts were signed off in record time.

However, Mr Stocks accepted in 2010-11 that the introduction  of International Financial Reporting Standards for local government last year put Birmingham in a difficult position. Most other large councils were also struggling to cope with additional work demanded by IFRS, he added.

Paul Dransfield, Strategic Director of Resources at the council, said it was a matter of personal and professional pride that presentation of the accounts should go without a hitch. He added: “We are as determined as we have ever been to sort out the accounts preparation process.”

Coalition leaders took comfort in the overall findings of Mr Stock’s 2010-11 Audit Letter, which concluded that the council manages its finances well and is driving forward service improvement,although progress is “uneven” and there are concerns about the poor performance of children’s safeguarding services.

Cabinet members were quick to boast about the achievements of their own departments.

John Lines, the housing member, insisted that 95 per cent of tenants were satisfied with repair work to their properties, and that 99.6 per cent of Birmingham council houses and flats now met the Government’s Decent Homes Standard.

Tim Huxtable, who holds the transportation and regeneration portfolio, said charges for collecting green and bulky waste “will never be introduced on my watch”, and that Birmingham would always have a weekly bin collection service while he was in charge.

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