Delays to Weca’s accounts cost taxpayers £17K in extra auditor fees

Delays compiling the West of England Combined Authority’s (Weca) accounts have cost taxpayers thousands for extra work by auditors.

Weca missed a deadline of finalising its accounts by the end of July because it did not yet have enough finance staff in place and had to rely on contractors — accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) — to do the bulk of the work.

But the problems were compounded because the computer system it was using required a large amount of manual input of data.

It meant extra work for external auditors Grant Thornton beyond the anticipated timescale.

Weca — comprising Bristol City, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset councils — has now recruited its own finance team to “own” the process of compiling its accounts.

Director of investment and corporate services Malcolm Coe told the regional body’s audit committee members: “We were hoping we could finalise the accounts at the end of July but it has been a difficult process for a number of reasons.

“It’s the volume of transactions we had to deal with on a manual basis to put these accounts together because the financial system we have been using is pretty much a blank shell.

“The other key issue in our improvement plan is Weca’s understanding and ownership of the accounts.

“The finance team 12 months ago was basically one person who is no longer with us.

delays to wecas accounts cost taxpayers 17k in extra auditor fees - Delays to Weca's accounts cost taxpayers £17K in extra auditor fees

Weca director of investment and corporate services Malcolm Coe (Image: Weca)

“We are now reducing our reliance on contractors and appointing internal capacity to own the process going forward.

“We need to have more involvement as Weca staff, we need to get better finance systems and we need to get the information much earlier in the process.”

Mr Coe said some of the additional £17,000 auditor’s charge was because the accounts were not ready in time.

“We had a contract with PwC who were responsible for putting our accounts together for last year,” he said.

“Clearly I will be having robust conversations with them and I will be looking to recoup as much as I can of that £17,000 by reducing fees I’m going to pay to our contractors.

“Next year it will be our responsibility.

“If and when we do commission support from a contractor, it will be on a bespoke basis for one particular element of complexity, not to do the whole thing for us.”

Mr Coe said he was confident Weca’s plans to address the issues would avoid a similar situation next year.

First ever meeting of west of England combined authority which will be led by a Metro Mayor after they have been elected in May.

First ever meeting of west of England combined authority

Grant Thornton director Barrie Morris told the meeting on Wednesday, October 16: “Members will no doubt be disappointed we are levying an additional fee in relation to the additional work we had to do.

“Malcolm and I had long discussions about what size of fee would be appropriate and we have agreed £17,000, so that takes the fee to just over £37,000.

Committee chairman and Bristol City Cllr Geoff Gollop said: “The situation does not suit anybody because if Grant Thornton eventually agreed an extra £17,000 fee with Malcolm, the costs will have been significantly more than that.

“You can guess that by simply having heard the amount of work that has been involved.

“While we clearly don’t want to pay any more than we have to, we want to pay a fair market rate.”

He said it was “very risky” if Weca did not take control of compiling its own accounts.

The 2018/19 annual statement of accounts shows Weca spent £699,000 developing the ill-fated Joint Spatial Plan, the blueprint to build 105,000 homes in the region that was thrown out by government inspectors in the summer.

It also reveals chief executive Patricia Greer claimed just £103 expenses throughout the financial year.

Weca doubled its workforce from 41 to 84 employees during the 12 months.

Collectively they claimed £22,000 for staff travel, £1,000 business mileage and £2,000 of miscellaneous expenses.

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