Fury at auditor’s delay in signing off Bucks and Milton Keynes Fire Authority’s accounts

Fire engine
Fire engine

Fire chiefs are in a blazing fury over an ‘unacceptable’ delay by a firm of auditors to get their accounts signed off for the last financial year.

Leaders of Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority want auditors EY to issue a refund in their £24,000 fee after hearing that the delayed audit process has even involved a call from the company’s Spanish office.

Cllr Lesley Clarke OBE told Wednesday’s Executive committee that a six-week audit delay was “unacceptable”. “We have strict guidelines to apply. The Executive is not impressed with the auditor, they are not helping with the accounts in a timely manner.”

She added that auditors EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young) should be asked to reduce their costs. The authority will be sending a letter to the auditors.

Councillors said the issue of late auditing was common across local government because there are only two audit companies now supplying services to them.

Milton Keynes leader Cllr Pete Marland said the borough council has also been hit by audit delays. He offered to raise the issue at the Local Government Association and also wondered if the audit process had much use.

“These are the audit companies that signed off Northamptonshire County Council three times in a row,” he said. That council later went into a financial crisis.

The fire authority’s principal accountant, Asif Hussain, said he now expected the signed off accounts to be presented to a meeting of the fire authority in September. In the meantime, the Executive has authorised the chief finance officer to authorise any late changes without going to a committee first.

Cllr Douglas McCall (Lib Dem), said: “The audit fees have been cut so much they are not worth doing and if we’re not careful nobody will want to do it. The matters need to be taken up nationally.”

Auditors EY told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that delays to a “small number” of its public sector audits had been caused by “unforeseen circumstances.”

A spokesperson for EY said: “Audit quality is the priority for EY and underpins our business decisions. Unforeseen circumstances have created resource challenges for a small number of our UK public sector audits.

“To deliver a high-quality audit EY has proposed a revised timetable to ensure that we are able to provide a team with the relevant sector knowledge. EY continues to consult with the chief finance officers at the impacted local authorities and the Public Sector Audit Authority during this process.”