Members of Causeway Coast & Glens Council were informed on Tuesday that the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) could not certify the accounts due to the inclusion of three properties – Coleraine Town Hall, Portstewart Town Hall and the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre – as ‘title is not proven’.
The council’s accounts were recommended for approval at the March meeting of the Audit Committee and were before the full council for ratification prior to being signed off on March 31.
However, Director of Corporate Services, Moira Quinn updated members in the virtual council chamber on correspondence she had received that afternoon from Collette Quinn, Director of Audit for NIAO.
The email from Ms Kane on Tuesday said:
“The financial statements for 19/20 were due to be ratified by council tonight on the basis of the audit findings and proposed audit opinion I presented at the last Audit committee.
“In recent days we have been made aware that council’s financial statements include significant value buildings which council have no proven title to – these include Portstewart Town Hall, Coleraine Town Hall and possibly the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre.
“Unfortunately the inclusion of these assets where title is not proven is a matter of material uncertainty in financial statements and we would now have to consider the impact of them on the audit opinion.
“We understand there may be additional buildings which council occupy for which title is not proven. I would appreciate your consideration of this matter and whether the issues could be resolved quickly to enable certification of the financial statements.”
On the matter of ownership Mrs Quinn said:”The Joey Dunlop Centre is easy, members, we do have title for it. Portstewart Town Hall is currently being considered and progressed through council and I understand Coleraine Town Hall will be resolved very shortly.”
Sinn fein Councillor Cara McShane asked Mrs Quinn for further clarity saying, “So basically the Audit Office is not signing off, is that because of our expenditure of public funds on buildings we know we don’t own?
“This is public finance, we are custodians of the public purse, I would like further clarity as to why it’s being held off.”
Mrs Quinn informed Cllr McShane that the issue isn’t with the expenditure on the buildings that the Audit Office “feel there is the risk there if they are on our balance sheet without council having the legal title”.
DUP Councillor Aaron Callan said; “It would be unwise to suggest we don’t invest money in assets that the public have used for many years and that we are custodians of.
“A lot of councils have this issue where they occupy buildings that were handed to the public. Essentially there are a certain number of buildings, take Coleraine Town Hall as a prime example, it was created 100 plus years before the council even came into existence.
“We are currently addressing the legal ownership of the buildings mentioned. I know we have a number of buildings to which we don’t have legal title and I know that is an issue we have been trying to address and clean up through our solicitor.”
Council Chief Executive David Jackson informed members that the ownership of the properties “will be resolved in a matter of days”.