Lib Dem opposition members are boycotting today’s meeting of the audit committee of East Cambridgeshire District Council following a row over a £450,000 overspend by one of the council’s trading companies.
“The Conservative administration continue to avoid being held to account, with the audit committee being denied access to key councillors and officers,” says a joint statement by Lib Dem councillors Charlotte Cane and Christine Whelan.
“We will not therefor being attending the ECDC audit committee meeting after being told councillors would not be allowed to properly scrutinise the council’s waste company East Cambs Street Scene (ECSS),” say both councillors.
“The company is owned by the council, overspent by £450,000 in 2022/23, and is forecasting a further overspend in 2023/24.”
Cllr Cane had asked the chair to invite the council’s two councillor ECSS ‘observers’ to the meeting to answer questions about the paper on ECSS that appears on the agenda.
She also asked that the chief executive John Hill, who is also managing director of ECSS, stay for the two items on the agenda covering ECSS.
“I was informed late on Friday that the observers would not be invited, and the chief executive would not stay for those items,” said Cllr Cane.
“Having carefully read the papers and the full internal audit report, and having asked follow-up questions of the auditor, I had questions I wanted to ask at committee about weaknesses identified by internal audit,” said Cllr Cane.
“Why had these weaknesses been allowed to persist? Why has the agreement between the company and the council been breached?
“Why have not all the auditor’s recommendations been accepted in full, and how will they be implemented?
“The only people who can answer those questions are the two councillors who are ‘observers’ at ECSS board meetings, and the chief executive who is the company’s managing director.”
“Without them, the meeting serves only to mislead the public by appearing to provide audit oversight when it cannot.”
Cllr Whelan said: “The significant delay in the external audit report on the council’s accounts for 2022/23 also means it is even more urgent that the audit committee should have access to key people and be able to obtain answers to our questions.
“I hope the council’s constitutional review will properly address these issues so that we have an audit committee which can assist the council in ensuring it provides value for money and good quality services and manages its risks well.”