Mayor hits out as Machynlleth Town Council accounts finally made public

By Alexandra Bánfi   |   Reporter   |
Wednesday 3rd August 2022 3:00 pm
@AlexandraBanfi
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Machynlleth mayor Jeremy Paige and Cllr Gareth Jones
Machynlleth mayor Cllr Jeremy Paige, top left, says there was a casual attitude to line-managing accounts, while Cllr Gareth Jones, bottom left, has been pressing for a full explanation of what happened to delay publishing them (Cambrian News )

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MACHYNLLETH’S mayor has hit out at previous council conduct as three years of missing accounts are finally published.

After a year of mounting pressure, Machynlleth Town Council’s absent accounts, from 2019/20 to 2021/22, are now publicly available on their website.

In light of this, mayor Cllr Jeremy Paige has warned “those responsible for the omissions of the past years should in particular look back and take account of what went wrong”.

The internally audited accounts were presented to full council, on Monday, 25 July, and are now ready for external auditing.

The missing figures were brought to the attention of the council in April 2021, after Cllr Gareth Jones enquired about their whereabouts. Growing pressure on the council since has led to their publication.

While Cllr Paige said he was “very pleased” they are ready for external audit, he added he was “disappointed by how members of the town council at the time allowed the situation to develop”.

“Where checks and balances existed they were not adequately applied and there was a casual attitude towards line managing those in charge of finances in terms of appropriate support and scrutiny,” Cllr Paige told the Cambrian News after the meeting.

“There is a line of thought that we should not look back but only look forward. I could not disagree more strongly.

“Those responsible for the omissions of the past years should, in particular, look back and take acc­ount of what went wrong and ensure they are better placed to look after the residents of Machynlleth going forwards.

“We now have a robust and detailed plan for improvement in place and I shall ensure that during my tenure as mayor, it will be applied and appraised regularly.

“I thank our newly appointed clerk and finance officer for all their hard work resolving the immediate issues and look forward to working with them and the current council members to restore confidence in the council that has clearly been lost. There is still much to do.”

After the meeting, Cllr Jones said: “I don’t profess to be an auditor, accountant, or financial expert. What I’ve been pressing for, since April last year, is for the accounts to be audited so we can be reassured the finances are well.

“From that perspective it’s very good news, not just for me but for all Machynlleth residents.

“There are concerns raised in the report regarding the mismanagement of how tax payers money has been handled. It’s good that the town council is taking steps to address those concerns, but of course it raises the question; how was it allowed to happen in the first place?

“The questions people one the street are asking me, and have been for a while, what went wrong? And why did it go wrong? Why, at the time the accounts started to not be provided to councillors before each meeting, did they not raise concerns then publicly? I don’t know the answer to that question, I wasn’t a councillor then.

“You can only speculate how much longer it would have gone on for, if I hadn’t raised it. Would the audit have been undertaken if somebody hadn’t asked that publicly?

“I never implied or suggested that any wrongdoings were going on. But nevertheless, any town council anywhere should have up to date council accounts.”

Analysis — The £35,000 question...

After a long wait of three years for Machynlleth Town Council accounts to be published, they’re now available publicly – and it doesn’t look good.

Prior to last week, the latest set of accounts available, for 2018/19, show the council ended the year with £35,824.12 to carry over to the next financial year.

This is incorrect. Doing the calculations ourselves, with figures made available to the council at the time, we found that this £35,824.12 was a deficit, not a surplus, contrary to what is started in the accounts.

This only came to light when the following years’ accounts, for 2019/20, 2020/21, and 2021/22, were published, for both councillors and the public to see, this month.

In the following year, 2019/20, the council started with the £35,824.12 debt and finished the year with a deficit of £925.

While the error has now been rectified, in recording the accounts for 2019/20, it was not until this month that councillors, and the public, were privy to these accounts, along with 2020/21 and 2021/22.

By the next year, 2020/21, the council was no longer in debt and started the financial year with £48,692.

While the publication of the accounts reassure the community that, currently, the accounts are in order and the error has been rectified, the mistakes and oversights made in previous years raise many vital questions about what went wrong.

Arguably the most important question is, how could the council make informed decisions about public expenditure without seeing the accounts for the following years, until now, knowing they had accrued over £35,000 in debt from the previous year?

Or if they didn’t know about this debt, why not? Why didn’t councillors notice the mistake in the 2018/19 accounts at the time and raise it as a necessary correction?

Why was there a deficit in the first place?

Remember too, that the accounts just issued have only been audited by the town itself. The full set of accounts have yet to be audited by external accountants at arm’s length from the council.

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