Keighley MP Kris Hopkins welcomes appointment of external auditors to examine town council books (From Keighley News)
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Keighley MP Kris Hopkins welcomes appointment of external auditors to examine town council books
Updated 5:41pm Wednesday 8th January 2014 in News
Keighley’s MP has welcomed the appointment of external auditors to go through the books of the town council following a series of complaints about the way it is being run.
Kris Hopkins, who has been highly critical of the town council’s financial management, told us: “I have said many times before that Keighley Town Council's accounts need to be properly audited, and it is welcome news that this will now happen.
"The true facts of what has been going on need to be understood so that a plan to put the council back on a sustainable footing can be drawn up.
“Equally, if evidence of any wrongdoing is found, those responsible must be made accountable for their actions."
The council, which has an annual budget of slightly more than £500,000, caused controversy last year by raising its council tax precept by 72 per cent and it has warned that another substantial rise will be needed this year.
The auditors – London-based PKF Littlejohn – have now written to the objectors, who include some town councillors, to confirm details of its probe and they intend to carry out face-to-face interviews with them as evidence is gathered about the council's spending in 2012/13.
A letter to one complainant states: "We have received notices of objection from eight persons relating to a total of 21 matters.
"We have carefully analysed the information received and are committed to determining the objections and considering the other information received as quickly and efficiently as possible."
The letter goes on to explain that the auditors will be "requesting documentation and explanations from the council" and also "giving objectors the opportunity to appear before us to make the objections".
Meetings will take place over two weeks from February 24 and PKF Littlejohn aims to decide on any objections "no later than April 30".
One objector is town councillor Brian Hudson who said a failure by the authority to respond fully to genuine concerns by the public had forced what would be a costly inquiry by the government-appointed auditors.
"The council should never have let it get to this stage, but it seems hell-bent on suicide," Coun Hudson said.
"Now it will have to foot the bill for all this - which could make it go bankrupt."
Campaign group Cavetown Council has actively challenged the town council's spending and member Elizabeth Mitchell said she and others had been forced to make the formal objections.
"We have all had high-handed or disapproving responses from the council in answer to serious questions about spending and this was the only way to get to the truth as there is no longer an ombudsman for town and parish councils, " said the retired accountant.
"This was not done lightly - it was a last resort. All the people I've spoken to are very much looking forward to speaking to the auditors in person.
"We want 2014 to be the year when Keighley Council finally grasps the nettle on all this."
Keighley mayor Councillor Sally Walker said the town council would not comment on or disclose any communications it has with its auditors but she pledged it would work with the auditors in every way.
"We have always fully co-operated with any inquiries and we are happy to do so in the future, " she said.
Last month Coun Walker warned Keighley ratepayers to expect a severe impact on the council's planned precept for 2014/15 due to issues over which it has "absolutely no control".
She said the council, which agreed the controversial 72.6 per cent rise in its precept for its 2013/14 budget that totals £507,000, now faces additional losses of up to £73,541 due to government changes to the council tax base.
However, Mrs Mitchell wants a freeze on any rise in the precept. "In view of the imminent investigation, I've asked the council to consider postponing any precept rise until the outcome is known," she said.
"I ask this on the basis that Keighley town councillors cannot accurately forecast the budget for the year 2014/15, which ultimately determines the precept, until they can assure themselves and the electorate that the figures in the accounts for the previous year are in fact correct."
The auditors are dealing with complaints relating to five areas of Keighley Town Council's affairs which are: the basis for determining the precept; alleged unlawful grants/loans in respect of establishing the Police Experience attraction at Keighley Civic Centre; alleged omissions from the council's asset register; alleged unlawful trading concerning the civic centre; and alleged non-compliance with financial regulations relating to the payments for goods, services and cash takings.