A ‘DAMNING’ report has questioned the effectiveness of a key ethics watchdog because of a lack of training.

Spotting and preventing fraud, dealing with unethical behaviour, and making sure good financial records are kept are just some of the responsibilities of council audit committees.

Last December, the nine councillors on the governance and ethics committee at West Berkshire Council were asked how well they feel able to carry out those responsibilities.

READ MORE: Newbury MP Laura Farris speaks out against domestic abuse

But only two responded to the survey. One of the seven who didn’t respond said he “didn’t feel qualified” to fill in the questionnaire.

Cllr James Cole (Con, Hungerford & Kintbury) said: “I was horrified to see the lack of response. I thought, in a sense, the report was quite damning. I think this opens up a number of questions.”

Cllr Cole was speaking at a meeting of the ethics committee on April 27.

READ MORE: ‘Unacceptable’: public lose right to speak in council meetings

He added: “We should co-opt an accountant onto this [committee], to understand and truly take on board much of what we are supposed to take on board — which I still find difficult, in spite of having been involved in this committee for five years.”

His views were echoed by Cllr Joanne Stewart (Con, Tilehurst Birch Copse), who said: “I’m slightly disappointed that not everybody felt they needed to complete the self-assessment.

“It would have been good to have a broader range of people’s feelings about their own abilities, experience and knowledge that is needed, to make this committee what it ought to be.”

The results of the questionnaire showed the governance and ethics committee only conforms with two thirds of what experts consider good practice.

Cllr Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Wash Common) said he didn’t fill out the survey because he didn’t remember receiving it in December. He also passed on a message from Cllr Andy Moore (Lib Dem, Newbury Central), who said he “didn’t feel able to respond” to the survey.

He said: “Cllr Moore considered that he didn’t know enough about the operation of the committee to make viable feedback … he felt he was not qualified to respond to it.”