Credit: Tower Hamlets Council
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Tower Hamlets Council accounts not audited for five years

The council is one of ten public bodies across England to be five years late on auditing, increasing the risk of financial irregularities and risky behaviours going undetected.

Tower Hamlets Council is one of 10 local public bodies across the country that hasn’t had its accounts audited for the past five years.

Tower Hamlets Council has launched a “challenging plan of action” and has said it’s a “top priority” to have its accounts signed off, which spans several years.

Auditing ensures local councils are held accountable and are transparent with how public money is spent and can detect early on whether a local authority is experiencing serious financial or governance difficulties.

Earlier this month it was reported that 99 per cent of councils across England had not had their 2022/23 financial accounts signed off in time for this year’s deadline, while 10 public bodies including Tower Hamlets Council have not had accounts audited for the past five years.

The other nine local public bodies included in the list are; Warrington Borough Council, Spelthorne Borough Council, Slough Borough Council, North Yorkshire Council (formerly Scarborough Borough Council), Rossendale Borough Council, Luton Borough Council, Harlow District Council, Copeland Borough Council and Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority.

Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, Meg Hillier who is also the chair of the Commons public accounts committee said the bankruptcy cases of Croydon Council, Slough Borough Council, Thurrock Council and Woking Borough Council should serve as “flashing red signals” for the Government.

Ms Hillier said earlier this year: “Our committee warned in 2021 that the system of local government audit was close to breaking point. Disappointingly, since then the situation has only gotten worse.

“The cases of Croydon, Slough, Thurrock and Woking councils all should serve as flashing red signals for the Government, and our report finds that the rot risks spreading to central government finance and the NHS.”

She went on to say that there are less than 100 key audit partners registered to perform local audit, and slammed this as a “worryingly low number”.

Ms Hillier added: “The Government must get its hands around this problem as a matter of urgency. It’s local taxpayers and service users who lose out when serious financial issues arise. The lack of timely accounts leaves council taxpayers in the dark.”

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: “The issue with unsigned accounts is one that goes back several years and we have been pursuing a challenging plan of action to address this.

“We have already signed off two sets of accounts [16/17 and 17/18] whilst the work to deal with the historic backlog continues to be a top priority, and is expected to be completed within the next couple of months.”

The spokesperson also provided the LDRS with a timeline of when accounts are likely to be amended and published: 

  1. 18/19 and 19/20 accounts will be presented to audit committee for approval on November 23
  2. 20/21 accounts will be amended and re-published by December 31
  3. 21/22 accounts will be published by December 31 
  4. 22/23 accounts will be published by January 31

The council’s audit committee will hold its monthly meeting on Thursday, November 23.

If you enjoyed reading this piece, you might like our analysis of Tower Hamlets Council’s anti-austerity budget.

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