A dour set of councillors trooped into the council chamber for the Reading Borough Council (RBC) audit and governance committee meeting on 21 November to find out if the captain, chief executive Peter Sloman, and his first mate, strategic finance director Peter Lewis, had any good news for them about their voyage to get the accounts sorted out.
After all, the good ship RBC had failed to complete accounts for the last year ended 31 March 2017 by the September deadline, were still trying to get to grips with the current financial year’s accounts and were struggling with reconciliations.
In parallel with this, three computer software upgrades and changes are being implemented mid-voyage: an Oracle Fusion upgrade (the main accounting system), the ‘Big Red Button’ (a new reporting system) and new bank reconciliation software. The finance department is also being restructured and new permanent and interim posts have been created to strengthen the team. Given past experience, this is a big ask with too many moving parts.
The committee chairman, David Stevens, appeared to have an overriding worry that there would be an impact on the budget setting process for next year. Chief executive Peter Sloman gave a qualified assurance, and the leadership continued to keep their heads down (fingers crossed and hoping for a miracle) for the remainder of this short meeting.
Earlier in the meeting the chief executive had described RBC “a little bit like a swan; there’s a lot of going on under the surface” [at 00:15:09].
An able councillor Emmett McKenna tried to cut through the fog of verbal platitudes and the vagueness of the presented papers to find evidence that might support what the first mate was saying [at 0:25:40].
Councillor McKenna put his questions to the grim reaper, Maria Grindley, executive director of auditors Ernst & Young, who must be looking forward to the cash bonanza as they try to make sense of the accounts and audit trails for thousands of journals. “Have you got any interim findings that you can share on the technical review?” he asked. “Have they been at the standard that you would expect?”
“I’m not in a position today to share anything with regards to technical review,” replied Maria Grindley.
Councillor McKenna tried again. “With the journal, EY [Ernst and Young] have indicated they will do some early sample checks. Have you done any and how are they?”
“This is work we’ll… start later this week..,” said Maria Grindley, which left doubt hanging in the air.
- Audit and governance committee 21 November 2017 papers & webcast
- Re-arranging the deckchairs on the good ship Reading Borough Council
- ‘Significant challenges’ in production Reading Borough Council’s accounts
- Woe, woe and thrice woe!