LETTER: Financial report clarification

I WAS interested, and somewhat surprised, to read your article in the November 27 issue of the Midhurst and Petworth Observer concerning the audit report on Petworth Town Council in which its financial arrangements were rated ‘woefully inadequate’.

There was a robust system of financial control until April, 2013, when my term as chairman of the finance committee of Petworth Town Council ended. I believe the same system was carried on by my successor.

There was clear segregation of duties.

Any two of four designated councillors signed all cheques, only after satisfying themselves that the expenditure was appropriate and authorised.

The clerk was not a signatory, although the author of the report seems to have been unaware of that significant fact.

Every payment made was listed on the agenda of the finance committee, with the name of the payee, amount and budget category and scrutinised by the committee.

Both income and expenditure were monitored closely against approved budgets.

The accounts and minutes of the meeting (including all payments, income and expenditure) were ratified at the full council meeting when all councillors were given the opportunity to question/clarify any financial transaction (which they often did).

The council’s internal auditor had direct access to the chairman of finance.

All the fundamental constituents of a strong financial control system were in place and the author of the recent report did not present any evidence that these controls had broken down.

This basic system of controls is not acknowledged in the report. I believe this casts doubt on the report’s conclusion that financial affairs were ‘woefully inadequate’, or that the clerk was ‘running financial procedures without adequate supervision’.

The author did not discuss any of his concerns with those responsible or involved at the time (a fundamental component of an audit). Much of the information on which the report was based appears not to have been independently validated.

Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement and the current council members are to be commended for wishing to improve controls.

However, as pointed out by the author of the report, most of the information required to improve controls is freely available on the SALC web-site, without unnecessarily spending over £700 of Petworth rate-payers’ money.

Gordon Allan

Ex-chairman of finance committee

Petworth Town Council