Reading Borough Council has been blasted for not publishing what it has spent and what money it has collected as its accounting bill is speculated to exceed £1.5 million.

Councils are meant to publish accounts showing how much an authority has spent and collected during each financial year, which must be audited by an accountantcy company.

But Stephen Graham from Tilehurst has noted that Reading Borough Council has failed to publish its 2022/23 accounts by the deadline of Tuesday, October 31. 

He has claimed that this is the sixth time in seven years that the council has failed to meet the publishing deadline.

Mr Graham said: “The fact that a council with an annual budget of £160 million pounds can’t deliver publicly accessible accounts to the council tax paying public seems to be a mere inconvenience for the ruling labour party.

“In fact, timely published accounts act as a reassurance that the council taxpayers’ monies are being spent wisely, and that the council’s finances are on a sustainable footing, with no unwelcome surprises for council taxpayers.

“This leaves local council taxpayers with three sets of missing accounts, those being 2020/21, which exists only as a draft, and the subsequent sets for 2021/22 and 22/23.”

Previously, council finance audits were overseen by the government’s Audit Commission, which was abolished in 2015. Now councils must use external auditors.

Mr Graham said: “Since taking over from KPMG, the council’s auditors Ernst Young (EY) are believed to have billed the council over £1 million pounds in additional auditing fees up to and including the 2017/18 accounts, which suggest the cost has continued to climb towards the £1.5 million pound mark.”

Although councils are meant to publish the accounts of what they have spent and collected in a financial year, only one per cent of councils in England were able to do so by the deadline this year, according to a report in The Guardian.

That means the remaining 99 per cent of councils have not yet had their 2022-23 financial accounts audited so far.

Last year just 12 per cent of all audits were completed by an extended deadline of November.

A Reading Borough Council spokesperson said: “The council fully acknowledges the important role played by the accurate and timely auditing of local authority accounts, but it is also not immune to the serious national backlog caused by the ongoing lack of capacity in auditing companies tasked with carrying them out.

“While some of the historical issues in Reading were attributable to past financial challenges, more recent delays are directly linked to the national position.

“Earlier this year the council reported that its 2019/20 Statement of Accounts has been formally signed off by external auditors and that the council received an unqualified opinion on the financial statements, recognising the significant improvements the council has made in its external financial reporting over recent years.

“The 2020/21 audit is substantially complete and EY delivered a detailed report to the last meeting of the Audit & Governance Committee in September, where no significant issues were identified.  EY committed to completing the audit this year.

“The cost will not be known until it is complete and it will be reported to future Audit and Governance meeting.”

The spokesperson added that the late 2021/22 accounts will be published later this month.

The council has not received an audit plan from its chosen auditors EY as it is awaiting national guidance from the Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities on proposals to address the backlog of council audits experienced in Reading and throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the 2022/23 accounts are expected to be ready for publication early next year.

However, the publication time will depend on substantial progress being made on the 2021/22 audit, which is directly linked to the national backlog.