Herefordshire Council officers are not ruling out that a possible criminal investigation is the reason past accounts at the local authority cannot yet be signed off.

A leading councillor resigned from a committee last week over growing frustration surrounding the enigmatic issue preventing external auditors Grant Thornton from issuing a certificate of closure for 2016/17 accounts.

Auditors say the matters related to a single issue which they cannot disclose due to confidentiality requirements.

This matter is preventing them from issuing the certificate, but they said it had no direct implications for the current audit of the council.

Monitoring officer Claire Ward said in a report to the audit and governance committee on March 19 that the council cannot say what the matter relates to.

She said the exempt information ‘falls within many of paragraphs 1 to 7 in schedule 12A’ of the Local Government Act 1972.

The authority would not rule out if the issue relates to a potential criminal investigation and would also not comment when pressed on which specific paragraphs of the schedule applied.

Councillors have so far been unsuccessful in prizing answers out of officers at four different meetings.

It’s Our County co-leader Liz Harvey said councillors were none the wiser despite setting a deadline for answers this month – she resigned with immediate effect during the meeting on Tuesday.

“It says quite clearly that the council set a deadline for whoever it is who is providing with external advice,” she said.

“Is it the police?

“This is almost the final straw. Once again this is kicked down the road, beyond the next election.

“Are we waiting for somebody not to be elected? Are we waiting for somebody to die?

“Are we waiting for somebody’s contract of employment to run out so that we can say they are no longer an employee of this council?”

Deputy monitoring officer Annie Brooks said the action was with a third party and they could not put the information in the public domain.

Conservative chairman Paul Newman asked again why the certificate had not been issued and asked how long would it go on for.

Chief finance officer Andrew Lovegrove could not say.

“The process that is in place needs to conclude and once the conclusion is reached then we will follow another course of action which will come to an end and Grant Thornton can issue their certificate of completion,” he said.

“I appreciate that is quite cryptic, but the issue is quite a complex one and we are reliant on external experts to do things.”

A council spokesperson said external audit is an important part of ensuring the authority has effective governance arrangements in place.

“External auditors Grant Thornton have given their opinion of ‘satisfactory assurance’ and signed off the accounts for 2016/17, however they are unable to issue a certificate of completion due to a remaining area of work,” he said.

“No part of the report to the audit and governance committee was exempt, however the nature and details of this remaining area of work must remain confidential.

“Once the matter is concluded Grant Thornton will be able to complete their processes and issue the certificate.

“Due to ongoing processes there is information which needs to remain confidential at this time as its disclosure may affect the ability to bring the matter to a conclusion.

“While it is rare that information is withheld when doing so we always consider whether the reasons for withholding the information outweigh the public interest in making the information public.

“It is in the public interest that this matter is able to be brought to a conclusion.”