An extraordinary audit of the accounts of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council concentrating on land disposals and easements is expected to reach completion in mid to late summer at a cost of around £70,000 to the ratepayer, something Independent Councillor Padraig McShane described as ‘phenomenal’.
Local Government Auditor Colette Kane gave the details of the timescale and cost as she responded to DUP Councillor Aaron Callan’s question at a meeting of the council’s Audit Committee following the NIAO’s completion of the audit on council’s accounts.
In November 2020, the Minister for Communities directed the Local Government Auditor to hold an extraordinary audit of the accounts of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
Carál Ní Chuilín said she requested the special audit as she had ‘concerns’.
Councillor Callan asked: “In relation to the extraordinary audit, how much is it going to cost us as a council because I note we are going to have to pay the bill for it.”
Ms Kane said: “We have written to the Chief Executive recently about this and we have costed it at present, it does come with a caveat because there is still some work to be done, however, it’s about £70,000.”
Independent Councillor Padraig McShane said; “I can scarcely believe what I have just heard.
“This Audit Committee was advised and our former independent Member was advised about the costs of a forensic audit in this council and the costs were prohibitive and no one wanted to go for a forensic audit.
“It was earmarked around the £50,000 mark and we are hearing now that this extraordinary audit, which is not a forensic audit, is now costing the ratepayers £70,000.
“I can tell you the ratepayer or the vast majority of ratepayers in Causeway Coast and Glens identified and wanted a forensic audit.
“I find that is a staggering amount of money and boy did we shoot ourselves in the foot and the ratepayers in the foot as well not to go for a forensic audit.
“This is absolutely phenomenal.”
Mayor, UUP Councillor Richard Holmes then pressed Ms Kane on the cost and timescale of a forensic audit asking if £50,000 would be unlikely to cover it.
Explaining that this was not her area of expertise, the Local Government auditor added: “It depends on the scope of a forensic audit, it can be a lengthy process, it can be a very specific process, it can be a shorter one – I could not possibly even estimate the cost of a forensic audit I’m afraid.
“A forensic audit is a very detailed, specific audit and requires quite a level of expertise and trained staff in a particular area and I would imagine it would be costly.”
Bringing the discussion to a close, Councillor Callan said: “A forensic audit would obviously involve more detail and more staff and expertise as Colette has highlighted. It would be a more lengthy process which would create more cost and I think that would be quite logical to follow.”
Local Democracy Reporter