West Lancashire Borough Council Annual Audit

Grant Thornton has published the draft findings report of the West Lancashire Borough Council for the year ended 31 March 2019.

It is worthy of note that for the statement of “Value for Money arrangements- Under the National Audit Office (NAO) Code of Audit Practice (‘the Code’), we [Grant Thornton] are required to report if, in our opinion, the Council has made proper arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources (‘the value for money (VFM) conclusion’). They state “We have completed our risk based review of the Council’s value for money arrangements. We have concluded that West Lancashire Borough Council has proper arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources”.

They [Grant Thornton] state “Significant findings – audit risks- Having considered the risk factors set out in ISA240 and the nature of the revenue streams at the Authority, we have determined that the risk of fraud arising from revenue recognition can be rebutted, because: • there is little incentive to manipulate revenue recognition • opportunities to manipulate revenue recognition are very limited • the culture and ethical frameworks of local authorities, including West Lancashire Borough Council, mean that all forms of fraud are seen as unacceptable. Therefore, we do not consider this to be a significant risk for West Lancashire Borough Council. Our audit work has not identified any issues in respect of revenue recognition”.

In respect of “Valuation of land and buildings” they state “The Council’s land and buildings assets have been valued this year by the Council’s in-house valuation team. Our work has assessed them as having a good knowledge of the Council’s portfolio, and they have used information from the Asset Register and other Council estates systems in carrying out their valuation of the assets. The assumptions used are reasonable and we are satisfied that they had access to appropriate levels of information to complete reliable valuations”.

Presumably they, Grant Thornton, are aware of all the WLBC land, including the Council resource the Beacon Park Golf Course (BPGC)?

The BPGC forms part of the leisure assets portfolio. Owned by WLBC and administered on its behalf by the West Lancashire Community Leisure Trust, and now leased to Serco Leisure Operating Ltd, a company that, with the agreement of the Leisure Services Department and Planning, between them turned the BPGC into a landfill site.

It may be within their [Grant Thornton] remit not to examine individual leisure assets, such as the BPGC, in their Audit. That excludes full disclosure of how companies involved in the BPGC have mismanaged it. DTC Leisure Ltd committed the criminal offence of not paying VAT but went into liquidation without penalty. Serco Leisure Operating Ltd has breached planning laws through its landfill activities and has been served with notice to comply with the original plan. Serco partnered the Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd whose director was convicted of VAT and planning offences in Knowsley Borough, prior to its activities in West Lancashire.

In the course of the landfill activities it became clear that the excessive dumping was worth vast amounts of royalties to the companies involved. The local Serco Project Manager claimed royalties would be paid to the West Lancashire Community Trust Ltd, but events have proved the royalties were paid to Serco. Due to the involvement of local MP Rosie Cooper the Serco Chief Executive Officer Rupert Soames admitted in writing to them having received £183,864 of royalties revenue. The remainder of the estimated royalties is assumed to be traceable via a string of companies associated with the Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd Director Jonathon Snellgrove. BPGC/WLBC planning development application 2016/0040/FUL is of interest.

Snellgrove’s misdemeanours included prosecution for planning breaches by Knowsley Council, convicted in his absence at Liverpool Magistrates Court and fined £9,000, never paid, and unpaid VAT of £100,000 at UK Sports Parks Ltd, now liquidated.

As I write this, once again BPGC is a shambolic development site

with the 1st fairway shown above, to attempt to correct what Serco Leisure Operating Ltd and Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd debauched, by spreading the excess landfill across other parts of the course. Who knows when it might end?

Dare we mention “due diligence” of WLBC’s BPCG contractors and how can it “be concluded that West Lancashire Borough Council has proper arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources”? It clearly cannot. But isn’t this what auditors of local authorities like West Lancashire Borough Council are paid huge sums of money for?

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