Scathing report highlights failings at Ammanford Town Council

PLAID Cymru said it was “deeply concerned” about a damning report which found serious financial governance failures at a town council it leads.

The party was responding to an Audit Wales report which said Ammanford Town Council had failed to properly account for thousands of pounds between 2016-17 and 2020-21 during which time it received almost £800,000 from local taxpayers.

The scathing report said the council initially failed to respond to Audit Wales’s provisional findings.

Deficiencies highlighted included such a lack of documentation about how £4,580 of petty cash was spent between December 2018, when a cheque for £5,000 was drawn, and February 2019, when only £420 remained of it.

The report said: “It appears that the £5,000 cheque was drawn to reimburse members for expenses they incurred on behalf of the council. However, despite the efforts made by the then interim clerk, supporting documentation could not be provided for the £4,580 payments made from the cash drawn.”

The previous financial year – 2017-2018 – there were no records to show how £2,700 petty cash was spent. An envelope with £983 in it was then located, but the report said there was no explanation where it came from, or whether it was the remains of the £2,700.

It added that certain costs in the 2017-18 accounts had been amended prior to being sent for audit, including staff costs rising from £36,373 to £42,502 and an entry about other payments reducing from £105,085 to £97,970. The report said it wasn’t clear if these changes had been made before or after the accounts had been signed by the council’s chairman – no amendments should be made after sign-off.

The report went on to say that the Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton, sent a document to the council’s clerk in September 2021 containing his findings and requesting comments, but that he received no acknowledgement or comments in response. In January 2022 the council’s chairman, Cllr Emyr John, asked Audit Wales for an official position for the town council for the last few years, adding that he was “getting very limited information from the clerk”.

The town council has nine Plaid councillors, five Labour councillors – all newly-elected at local government elections in May 2022 – and one Independent.

Labour group leader, Cllr Anthony Jones, said the concerns that he and party colleagues had had about financial governance had been “completely valid”.

“The auditor has highlighted a culture of negligence around public money, a lack of accounting controls, and a chummy attitude to spending decisions,” said Cllr Jones. “We simply can’t be sure that money has been fairly or properly distributed around Ammanford under the last administration.”

Labour councillor Calum Higgins said credit should be given to the new Plaid councillors who wanted to sort out the issues.

In response to the report, a spokesman for Plaid said: “We were deeply concerned upon learning of the report from Audit Wales. Our current group of councillors on Ammanford Town Council have been working tirelessly to rectify these historical issues and we will continue to support them. It is important that all councillors demonstrate a desire to implement the recommendations in the Audit Wales report, the first step of which will be to hold a public meeting to gather the thoughts and feelings of the residents of Ammanford.”

This meeting has to be held within a month of the report being published. Following the meeting the council must prepare a written response, submit it to Mr Crompton for approval, and then publish it in a local newspaper.

The Audit Wales report made seven recommendations, including that the council reviews its accounting records and ensures they are properly maintained, and reviews its petty cash procedures and ensures the money is only used for small value items. Also, cheque signatories must ensure they don’t sign cheques drawn for cash or cheques that do not have the payee recorded on the cheque itself.

Town and community councils levy an annual precept on local council taxpayers which provides the funding for the work they do. The Ammanford Town Council precept was £86,520 in 2016-17, rising to £259,710 in 2020-21. The total sum raised in these five years was £799,949.

The Audit Wales report said council had responded to its findings in March 2022, stating that it had improved its processes and would continue with the practice of continued development and improvement. But the report added that, at the time of writing, the council had not yet provided its 2021-22 accounts as per the regulations. At the end of June this year the council said it had not been able to complete and sign its 2022-23 accounts due to the absence of the responsible financial officer.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service contacted the town council and the chairman, Cllr John, to ask if they wished to comment but no response was received at the time of going to press.

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