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South Ribble "disappointed" by auditors' approach

An independent group of experts assessing South Ribble's performance found it had made "good progress" - but that some of it was too slow.
An independent group of experts assessing South Ribble's performance found it had made "good progress" - but that some of it was too slow.
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South Ribble Borough Council has sharply criticised an audit report which suggested the authority had made slow progress in implementing an improvement plan.

External auditors last month made a ‘statutory recommendation’ for the council to speed up the process, initiated after a series of failings in its licensing department emerged in 2016.

READ MORE >>> South Ribble questions audit criticism
But in a report to be presented to the borough’s scrutiny committee next week, members are told that the authority finds it “disappointing” that auditors looked beyond the 31st March cut-off date to assess some aspects of the council’s work - but not others.

South Ribble has been receiving advice from local authority leaders about how to improve its performance.

The so-called ‘peer review’ team made a follow-up visit to the authority in mid-March, after which it suggested the council needed to quicken the pace of a plan to restructure its senior management team and fully implement a shared services agreement with neighbouring Chorley Council.

When the audit was published in July, deputy leader Caroline Moon told a meeting of the council’s governance committee that it “already felt out of date”, because many of the issues raised had been addressed since a largely new cabinet began work in April.

But another part of the audit did consider more recent matters - namely, that the authority’s chief finance officer had been filled by four different individuals in the space of nine months.

Auditors Grant Thornton accepted that the role had been “sufficiently discharged”, but questioned whether a strategic approach could have been taken to the council’s financial position amidst so many changes.

The scrutiny committee will next week be told: “There appears to be no recognition that this council has moved from a deficit position to a positive position, and that, for the first time, the council has an approved 5-year financial strategy.”

A meeting of the full council will decide whether to accept the auditors’ recommendation - and what action to take - at a later date.