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 local authority’s financial management, told the Keighley News: “I have said many times before that Keighley Town Council’s accounts need to be properly audited, and it is welcome news 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 town council, which has an annual budget of slightly more than half-a-million pounds, caused controversy last year by raising its council tax precept by a record 72 per cent, and it has warned ratepayers another substantial rise will be needed this year.
The auditors – London-based PKF Littlejohn – have now written to objectors, who include some town councillors, to confirm details of its probe, and they intend to carry out face-to-face interviews as evidence is gathered.
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 the auditors will be “requesting documentation and explanations from the council”.
Meetings will take place over two weeks, 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,” he said.
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,” said the retired accountant.
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 them.
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.