AN investigation into the accounts of Ledbury Town Council over the past two years is taking place, after an auditor asked questions which apparently could not be answered by councillors.

The problem appears to be that town council reserves were drained to a possibly 'unacceptable' level, when £220,000 was used to pay legal bills after the authority lost a judicial review – which was brought by the current chairman of the finance and general purposes committee, Cllr Liz Harvey.

An extraordinary meeting of the full council, which followed a finance committee meeting on June 27, agreed, according to the minutes of the agenda, that "any monies left on the budget at the end of each financial year should be transferred to the council's reserves to an acceptable amount, as per the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015".

At the same meeting, "after a lengthy discussion on the earmarked reserves", members agreed it would be beneficial for Cllr Harvey and town clerk Angela Price "to meet with the auditor, to go through information available to him and his findings so far".

The reserves were also discussed at a meeting on May 23, when councillors agreed that "end of year reports to March 31 be deferred, until such time the internal auditor is able to provide some clarification on the earmarked reserves", according to the minutes.

At the same meeting, it was agreed to hold the June 27 meeting "for the purpose of discussing the 2018/19 balance sheets and, in particular, the earmarked reserves".

The Reporter contacted the town clerk for clarification, and an emailed response was provided by Cllr Harvey, as chairman of the town's finance, policy and general purposes committee.

Cllr Harvey confirmed that the council had commissioned "a special audit investigation".

She said of the special audit: "In both 2018 and 2019 councillors have not been able to answer positively all the questions in the council's Governance Statements.

"The council has resolved to commission a special audit investigation to examine the concerns which have been raised and to recommend action to address any governance or procedural failures that are identified."

Ledbury Town Council had received "qualified audit opinions for two consecutive sets of annual accounts from its external auditors".

The Reporter contacted the town clerk again, for further clarification on a number of question which were:

  • What aspect of the Governance Statements have been called into question?
  • Which questions could the councillors not answer positively?
  • Which concerns were raised, leading councillors to launch the special audit investigation?
  • What will the special audit investigation achieve?
  • When will be it completed?
  • What is the cost to the public purse concerning the special audit investigation?

These questions were forwarded by the town clerk to Cllr Harvey, but no reply had been received at the time of going to press.