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Council department run ‘like a fish and chip shop’, meeting heard

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Managers of a Durham County Council department have been blasted for running it ‘like a fish and chip shop’.

The council’s latest audit has again raised issues with its own valuation of some of its assets.

The report claimed there was a ‘high degree of estimation uncertainty’ around internal assessments and labelled it an area of ‘significant risk’.

But the council says the adjustments were made prior to the audit being completed and accounts were given a ‘clean bill of health’ and signed off in line with statutory requirements.

Speaking at the council’s Audit committee meeting at Durham County Hall, independent councillor John Shuttleworth said: “I raised back in November this valuation of assets.

“There’s a building in Bishop Auckland called the Laurel Building and it’s sitting there like a can of beans.

“How do you value something that has no value?

“It was set on fire and it’s sat there scaffolded for five years.”

He added: “The department is like a fish and chip shop.”

Problems with the council’s own valuations meant auditors from accountancy firm Mazars had to make changes to the Statement of Accounts for 2017/18.

This is an issue which had already been identified by the company last year.

In its audit for 2016/17, it found ‘ the whole second floor of a building had not been recorded’.

And in another instance, a valuation for a school had been made based on a site which was no longer in use.

However, the paper also said this time around assessors ‘did not identify any errors suggesting a risk of material misstatement’.

Audit panel chairman Coun Eddie Bell, who represents the Deneside division, said: “I express my disappointment that issues have been raised which paint asset management in a negative light.”

He added: “A number of internal audits have highlighted weaknesses in the services and we would like to know why these matters keep coming up and what you intend to do about it.”

John Hewitt, Durham County Council’s corporate director of resources, said: “The audit of our accounts highlighted adjustments to asset values and these adjustments were made prior to the audit being completed. Subsequently, we were given a clean bill of health for our accounts, which have now been closed and signed off in line with statutory requirements.”