The spectre of the Asons scandal still hangs over the Council and it will stay for a very long time. People are rightly very angry that their money was given to a private firm using “emergency powers”; and that there wasn’t a sufficient paper trail to justify the decision to use those powers. So when the audit work for the Council hasn’t been completed for the second year in a row, I think everyone is right to be very concerned.
If there isn’t a proper paper trail, how can we be sure another Asons hasn’t happened? We can’t, it’s that simple. I really hope there isn’t another scandal brewing here but the fact is we just can’t tell. Audits exist to keep everything above board and ensure everyone knows how their money is being spent (because Council money is, ultimately, your money).
What I find really galling about all this is the fact that some parts of the audit haven’t just been deferred until they can be completed (which would be annoying but at least we would eventually get the information) they have instead been cancelled. Cancelling audits while a scandal the size of Asons is still so fresh in peoples’ memories shows just how out of touch the Labour group running Bolton Council are.
Do they honestly think nobody is going to look at that and wonder whether something is being covered up? I’m not saying anything actually is being covered up, of course, but it’s damaging to the reputation of the Council now that it won’t be possible to demonstrate that there isn’t anything to cover up. The Council doesn’t have a good reputation with financial matters right now, it can’t afford the kind of talk this behaviour causes.
Bolton Council needs to regain public trust and it can’t do that by cancelling audits into how it is spending the public purse. Cllr David Greenhalgh, Leader of Bolton Conservatives, put it best when he said, “It is of real concern that after assurances had been given that the audit plan would be completed this year, 23 audit plans have either been cancelled or deferred, and among those, some areas that have previous been in the spotlight and raised national criticism. None more so than an internal audit into the ‘Grant Payments’.” (“Council financial checks not done”, The Bolton News, 1 Feb 2019)
Grant payments is where Asons lurked – the firm was given £300,000 via a grant from the Council, using emergency powers at a secret meeting (as I recall from the debate in Council when the news of this scandal broke, the only information provided was on “green papers” – the Council’s indicator that the information is confidential and not to be disclosed to anyone but the recipient of the papers). If the audit into grants is once again being delayed or cancelled, it becomes impossible for Bolton Council to rebuild the public trust that it so desperately needs.
Once again, Labour is failing our towns. If they can’t even manage to get an audit done properly when they themselves desperately need one, how can we trust them to do anything right for you?