NEW auditors will charge West Berkshire Council thousands of pounds extra in fees but won’t yet say how much, because they don’t want to “frighten” councillors.

Auditor Grant Thornton were recently hired to look through the council’s finances. The auditor is currently working through the accounts for the last financial year, 2018–19. 

But because of delays — partly due to ‘technical errors’ where millions of pounds were missing — Grant Thornton has had to do extra work before signing off the accounts. 

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Due to the extra work, the auditor will charge the council additional fees on top of the original £74,423 charge. However it is still unclear how much those extra fees will be. 

David Johnson, engagement manager at Grant Thornton, explained the details to councillors on the governance and ethics committee on February 10. 

He said: “There will be extra fees charged for the volume of work that has been undertaken in order to get the opinion and the accounts signed off. 

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“Until we have actually finished, that figure is unknown. I hesitate to give you a ballpark, because I wouldn’t want to either frighten you or give you a figure that escalates more between now and the next governance and ethics meeting.”

Joseph Holmes, the council’s executive director of resources, explained that “if there is a significant difference” between what Grant Thornton want to charge and what the council wants to pay, then an independent body can negotiate the costs. 

The Public Sector Audit Appointments (PSAA), which is part of the Local Government Association, arbitrates these issues,  appoints auditors to councils and even sets fees. 

Councillor Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Wash Common) said: “So we don’t get to choose who is looking at us and we don’t get control the cost, is that a fair summary?”

Mr Holmes said: “That is a reasonable summary. But you can see that the audit fee has dropped as a result of Grant Thornton going in.”

Cllr Abbs said: “So far. It just seems strange to me that we have this open-ended commitment.”

Mr Johnson tried to reassure councillors about the costs. He said: “I know there is that impression that these auditors come in and ratchet up the costs.”

He explained the PSAA offer a “buffer” to make sure fees are reasonable. 

Mr Johnson said: “It’s not entirely open-ended. But what the PSAA think is reasonable and what you as a council think is reasonable, are two different things.”