The council is set to miss the deadline for the fifth year running to file its accounts on time in a saga that has cost the local authority more than £1 million.

Due to historic failures by the council to meet good accounting standards, Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) 2016/17 accounts were signed off two years late and deadlines for the following three years’ accounts have also been missed as a result.

The council revealed details of the latest attempts to solve the saga at an Audit and Governance committee meeting on Tuesday, April 20.

READ MORE: Reading Council accounts - five key issues remain as two-year delayed accounts set for sign-off

Although a report in October 2020 suggested 2020/21 could be the first year the council would have its accounts signed off on time since 2015/16, this will now not be the case.

Both the 2019/20 and 2020/21 accounts should be signed off by December 31, 2021, according to the council, with the 2018/19 accounts set to be signed off next month.

The 2016/17 accounts were signed off in July 2019 while the 2017/18 accounts were signed off in October 2020.

Reading Borough Council offices

Reading Borough Council offices

New RBC finance director Darren Carter said: “Substantial progress has been made in relation to the audit of the 2018/19 accounts and we are hopeful our audit work will be completed this month and that EY can then undertake their quality assurance views next month. It will be at that point that we know the outcome of the audit.

“A huge amount of work is going in to make sure this process is completed as soon as possible. If we do achieve these timescales it will represent a significant improvement on the time taken to complete previous audits.

“We are hoping to have both the 2019/20 and 2020/21 audits completed by the end of the calendar year.”

Councillor David Stevens, chair of the committee, said: “It is very encouraging that it is getting to a better place.”

Cllr David Stevens

Cllr David Stevens

What has gone 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 and accounts should be published in September each year.

But due to the historic failures to keep good accounting standards and controls, the 2016/17 were published two years late and this has also delayed the accounts for subsequent years.

The accounts have all had to be qualified due to lingering issues in some areas, creating further delays.

A qualified opinion means the auditor is unable to give an unqualified, or clean, audit opinion but can sign off the accounts.

According to the report, auditing has also been delayed by Covid-19 in the last year.

How much has solving the accounting failures cost the council?

RBC’s 2017/18 accounts were signed off at the end of October 2020 and the council has now confirmed the final fee for auditing these accounts was £420,000 above the normal amount.

Added to the £600,000 extra accounting firm Ernst & Young (EY) charged to audit RBC’s 2016/17 accounts, the first that could not be signed off on time – this means the fiasco has already cost the council £1.02 million.

READ MORE: £1 million cost of failures confirmed and will rise higher

The 2018/19 and 2019/20 accounts are still to be audited ad the council has confirmed the 2018/19 accounts will also be above the normal fee but said EY “is not in a position to estimate an amount at this point”.