A much-delayed report into Wokingham Borough Council’s finances has ended up costing the council more than £60,000 extra in additional fees.

Consultant company EY has finally completed its audit of the council’s finances for the year running from April 2020 to April 2021. But it says additional fees for carrying out extra work – including the cost of the delay – come to £60,654.

That’s despite the fact that causes of the delay were outside the council’s control – prompting one councillor to ask if this was fair – as 'it’s essentially taxpayers picking up this bill'.

Councils have to ask external auditors such as EY to look at their yearly accounts, and say whether they’ve been calculated and managed securely. This includes looking at the pension fund the council keeps for its staff.

But this pension fund – the Berkshire Pension Fund – is shared with other councils in Berkshire and managed by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM). So EY has to get RBWM’s auditors to send them a letter confirming that all is okay.

Yet RBWM’s auditors say they found accounting issues that needed to be fixed – and so weren’t able to send a full assurance. In the meantime, new issues cropped up affecting all councils.

Audits for all councils were effectively put on hold as it emerged some councils did not have detailed information on infrastructure assets. Then, while many audits were delayed – a three-year evaluation of all pension funds was completed.

That led many auditors to request that work be redone with the new information.

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At a meeting of Wokingham Borough Council’s audit committee on Wednesday, September 21, councillor Burgess asked EY how the fees required for the extra work were calculated and approved, and whether the council could get assurance that these were fair.

She said: “We’ve got some national issues in there – infrastructure assets. We’ve got things that are just outside of out control – the pension delays.

“We should be getting some assurance that these are fair. It’s essentially taxpayers picking up this bill.”

Janet Dawson from EY replied that fee rates are agreed by a government-appointed organisation, the PSAA, which also consults with council staff. She said this was “quite a long, laborious process.”

The cost of dealing with the RBWM pension fund delay was £2,571. The work to address the issue relating to infrastructure assets cost £7,145, and the additional work on the three-year pension valuation cost £1,775.

Other costs additional costs not related to the delays investigating an allegation by a whistleblower – not spelled out – which auditors found had “no evidence to substantiate the allegation made.”