WORK on the audit of Copeland Council’s finances stretching back as far as 2018 is still ongoing and may not meet the deadline set for its completion, it has been revealed.

Members of Cumberland Council’s audit committee received an External Audit Progress Report at a meeting in Cumbria House in Carlisle on Tuesday (October 10).

The current council replaced the legacy councils – Carlisle city, Allerdale and Copeland and Cumbria county councils in April this year – and members heard the update on the work on the finances of the three borough councils.

Gareth Kelly, the legacy auditor, told councillors that work on Allerdale and Carlisle city councils was on track – but Copeland was in a 'slightly different position'.

He said there were a number of 'significant errors' which had been found during the audit of the 2018/2019 finances and work was going into going back through the accounts to correct them.

He said they were hoping to recommend the 2018/2019 audit by January and the audit into accounts between 2019 and 2023 was 'still open' and at the draft stage.

According to his report, which was presented to members, the Government has set a series of statutory deadlines for accounts and, in his report, he states: “We expect this will impact Copeland Borough Council’s delayed accounts.”

Speaking to members he said he hoped they would be ready by March next year but added it could turn out to be an 'impossible task'.

Councillor Joseph Ghayouba (Bransty, Labour) said when he was a member of Copeland Council he had a 'lot of concern at the time' over the financial situation and agreed there were a series of errors which indicated a discrepancy of £8million.

Mr Kelly said the errors related to items which had been wrongly categorised and they could also be connected to a cyber-attack during that time period.

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Councillor Brian Wernham (Stanwix Urban, Lib Dems) said that if they missed the deadline they would have to issue what was known as a 'disclaimer opinion' – where the auditor was unable to obtain sufficient evidence to form an opinion on the financial statements being audit – and added: “Which is as bad as it gets.”

He said there were four years of accounts, which were still outstanding, and there was an £8million discrepancy. He said: “Are we certain there are no more errors in there?”

Mr Kelly clarified that the discrepancy was not a 'black hole' and added: “It doesn’t have an impact on the bottom line. It’s important that it is correct but it’s not a black hole.”

Councillor Lucy Patrick (Harraby South, Labour), the committee chairwoman, said: “If it comes to the point a disclaimer opinion is needed it will come back to this committee.”

Councillor David Moore (Gosforth, Conservative), the committee vice chairman, said the discrepancies could also have arisen when council properties were undervalued.

Councillors noted the contents of the report.