The report presented detailed the progress of the audit for 2020/21 financial statements. It was noted that much of the audit field work had been substantially completed with most areas of the audit being progressed. However much of the audit work was pending a review by the audit manager and audit engagement lead. With the appointment of a new audit team member to undertake the day-to-day management of the audit and to oversee the review and completion of audit procedures, audit work would restart in July with the expectation it would be completed by the end of September and to be reported to this committee in October 2022. Thurrock’s audit delay was in line with the national issue being raised by Government who were taking action to get the timeliness of local audit back on track.
Councillor Carter referred to paragraph 3.3, appointment of a new audit team member, of the report and questioned when that position had been filled to which Rachel Brittain stated they had started on Monday, 4 July.
Councillor Ononaji questioned how much progress had been made since the last report in March 2022 to which Rachel Brittain stated no progress had been made as that key person had not been in post and this had been the first opportunity for someone to be made available to start this work. Councillor Ononaji highlighted the importance of the work to be undertaken and questioned whether the right tools and resources were in place to complete this work to which Rachel Brittain stated they were trying to recruit and fill vacancies in a more innovative way. Explained the audit market was a tough market at this time to recruit with lots of competition for each of their vacancies. They were looking at different solutions, looking at using overseas staff, had a centre of excellence which had been set up in South Africa but tended to be more junior grades. The position that needed to be replaced was a key senior member of the team and required public sector experience to be able to do a good job. Councillor Ononaji questioned when progress would be made to which Rachel Brittain stated she hoped to bring the audit completion report to the October committee, at that point the audit should be finished.
Charles Clarke referred to the recently closed consultation and that the audit could not be signed off without the completion or the final result, questioned whether the October date proposed was subject to that consultation to which Rachel Brittain confirmed that was vital before she could sign off, there may be some additional work, but confirmed to be able to do this within the timeline proposed. Charles Clarke questioned whether this would give the committee the guarantee that come October all 21 audits would be completed and would be looking at the next year’s audit to which Rachel Brittain stated this would be achievable, unless any unexpected issues arose, to be finalised in that timeline.
Lisa Laybourn asked for some clarification on how the open consultation would impact the prior period to which Rachel Brittain stated the issues were
with infrastructure assets, in the way they are accounted for and the fact that quite often those assets would be added to and then not written off. Therefore, there was a potentially issue on the balance sheet where both the asset and the depreciation would be overstated, but the net position would probably be right. Confirmed that the consultation had gone out therefore any changes made would apply retrospectively so that there were not any issues over comparatives.
Councillor Rigby referred to the objection to the financial statements and questioned whether this had delayed the work that was on going to which Rachel Brittain stated there would be additional work to be undertaken that would need to be carried out on the final accounts to address this objection but confirmed that this had not delayed the process.
Councillor Rigby questioned whether the staff crisis would be better managed going forward to which Rachel Brittain stated there were still vacancies within the team but were actively looking at different ways to recruit, there was a significant backlog that needed to be caught up on but was confident they had sufficient number of staff to get these completed.
That the Standards and Audit Committee noted the progress of the external auditors in completing the audit of 2020/21 financial statements.