An accounting fiasco has now cost Reading Borough Council (RBC) at least £1 million, it has been revealed.

EY’s audit of the council's 2016/17 accounts cost £708,000, a huge £600,000 more than the initial expected cost of £108,000.

And the council has now revealed that the 2017/18 accounts will cost “at least” £400,000 more than expected to audit.

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This means the total cost of the historic accounting failures has reached an additional £1 million on top of the ordinary fee.

What went wrong?

Accounts are a summary of an organisation's financial activity over a 12-month period.

They should be accurate and transparent financial information which gives a true and fair view of the council’s economic performance and financial stability. They are audited to make sure they meet this criteria.

Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) 2016/17 accounts were finally audited and published in July 2019 – with a qualification, however – after a two-year delay due to historic failures by the council to meet good accounting standards.

These accounts should have been verified by auditors EY in September 2017 and deadlines for the following two years’ account have also been missed as a result.

And EY has now told the council the 2017/18 accounts will cost around £400,000 more than the expected fee due to the additional work involved.

Officers have responded to more than 2,000 queries during the 2017/18 audit, significantly higher than the norm, due to the qualification of the 2016/17 accounts.

The 2017/18 accounts were expected to be signed off in June 2020 but this has been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the council said the audit is “nearing completion”.

What about the accounts for 2018/19 and 2019/20?

The 2018/19 accounts are now expected to be complete next month, while the draft 2019/20 accounts should be published by next month.

First accounts submitted on time in four years?

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, councils have been given extra time to publish their draft accounts, with a deadline of August 31, 2020, for the 2019/20 accounts.

This means RBC’s 2019/20 accounts could be the first to be published on time in the past four years.

These accounts would then need to be audited by the end of November to meet the final deadline.

‘Disgrace’ – Councillors to discuss the fiasco next week

Councillors will discuss the latest accounts situation at Tuesday evening’s (July 14) Audit and Governance committee meeting.

Lib Dem Councillor Ricky Duveen, speaking at a full council meeting in (February 25), slammed the administration for failing to publish its accounts on time.

He said: “The never-ending issues with producing the council's accounts are a disgrace and do nothing to promote residents’ confidence in their elected councillors.

“Other councils seem to manage perfectly well.”

At that meeting, councillor Jason Brock, leader of RBC, said the delay in producing the 2017/18 accounts was entirely down to the delay in publishing the 2016/17 accounts.

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He said the difficulties in closing the 2016/17 accounts have “quite properly” resulted in a more stringent audit of the 2017/18 accounts.

This has come at a cost of at least £400,000.

Note: *This article has been updated to reflect the latest figures available*