A FORMER council leader says the ongoing saga over the council’s accounts, which are yet to be signed off, is an embarrassment to the town.

It comes as an auditor declined to rule out that it could take another several months to resolve.

The Labour-run council failed to sign off its 2017-18 statement of accounts before the deadline of July 31 in 2018 due to a valid objection questioning whether its investment into Redwood Bank was legal.

In addition, the objection – lodged by retired chartered public finance accountant Chris Haggett – asked whether it was in the public interest.

In January 2017, the council controversially agreed to pay around £30 million to buy a 33 per cent share in Redwood Bank.

Last year, it made its third payment to bring its investment to just under the agreed amount.

The council also received an objection to its 2018-19 accounts.

Grant Thornton, the council’s independent external auditor, will not be able to sign them off until the 2017-18 accounts are done.

Councillors continue to voice fears over the situation amid the delays, with former leader Cllr Ian Marks (LD – Lymm North and Thelwall) taking the opportunity to press Grant Thornton audit manager Gareth Winstanley about the issue during Thursday’s audit and corporate governance committee meeting at the Town Hall.

Cllr Marks, who was the leader between 2006 and 2011, said the matter is clearly an ‘embarrassment for the town’ before asking for clarity on when it will be resolved.

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Ian Marks

Mr Winstanley confirmed the process in relation to the objection to the 2017-18 accounts remains ongoing, with responses from the objector and council being reviewed.

He added: “As ever, there is a due process it needs to go through in order for that to get finalised, which includes sharing any outline findings with Public Sector Audit Appointments (PSAA).

“We are not at that stage yet but there is that process to go through before the final outcome can be shared with the council and with the objector.

“But we are making positive progress, I know you have heard this before but we are moving in the right direction as well.”

Shortly after, Cllr Marks pressed Mr Winstanley further.

The Liberal Democrat politician asked: “I am glad to hear we are moving in the right direction but, from what you are saying, it could be several months before this comes through?”

Mr Winstanley said he would not ‘like to put a date on it’ before re-emphasising progress is being made – but did not rule out it having the potential to take another several months to get the accounts signed off, but

PSAA was incorporated by the Local Government Association in August 2014.

Part of its responsibility includes appointing auditors to all relevant authorities.

Mr Winstanley said it is ‘pretty much’ a regulator covering audit firms.

Cllr Steve Parish (LAB – Chapelford and Old Hall) asked if it was ‘jobs for the boys’.

Mr Winstanley said: “Certainly not.”