Damning Northants report highlights misspent public health money

23 May 18

Northamptonshire County Council could face a 60% higher bill than expected for misspend public health grants, an independent audit report has found.

It was originally thought the troubled council was being asked to account for how it spent £10m of Public Health England grants.

But an interim report by the council’s auditors KMPG, released on Friday, has shown PHE is now looking at reclaiming £16m of potential ‘non-compliant spend’ - £3m of which was used in 2017-18.

The grants are supposed to be deployed in areas such as sexual health and public mental health.

But in March this year the former council leader Heather Smith told the BBC the PHE money “may have been spend in adult social care”.

“It is debatable whether that was a public health need or not,” she added.

KPMG has asked for regular updates on the matter, in its report. 

Its interim update, which will be discussed by the council’s audit committee tomorrow, also criticised the council for not taking “specific and tangible actions” in response to the government-commissioned inspection by Max Caller, published in March.

The report suggested the council was split into two unitary authorities.

The council has since said it accepts these findings and leader of the council Matthew Golby has said it is committed to working with borough and district councils to “develop a proposal that we all support”.

The KMPG report also noted that “key documents relating to the authority’s flexible use of capital receipts were not provided as previously requested” before the auditors visited the council on 7 February this year.

The documents should have been provided to comply with statutory guidance and meant KMPG has not be able to start assessing this information, the report said, which the auditor said is “a significant audit and value for money risk”.

It also noted that the authority’s financial reports submitted to the cabinet in 2017-18 were “unclear and lack details”.

“The budget report does not provide members with a clear view of the variances and overspends within each directorate,” the KMPG report stated.

It added: “The narrative is often vague and written in dense management speak.”

The auditor noted the authority had not “historically” reported its full financial position transparently in its year-end outturn reports.

Clear action plans and accountability were needed to address significant deficiencies and demonstrate “progress towards building a solid foundation for good governance and sound financial management”, KMPG recommended.

A Northamptonshire County Council spokesperson said: “We are continuing to have open and transparent discussions with Public Health England East Midlands about the Statement of Assurances for the years 2015-16 and 2016-17 around how public health grant was used within public services in Northamptonshire.

“We have been working closely with Public Health England East Midlands providing all required evidence.

“All of the issues of compliance have been checked in detail and we await the final outcome of the review.”

Image credit: Hazel Nicholson, Flickr Images


January 2018 - Sajid Javid sends in inspector to investigate the council’s financial management

February 2018 - the council issues the first ‘section 114’ notice in 20 years, banning all spending except on statutory services

February 2018 - the council plans to sell off their brand new headquarters to generate cash

February 2018 - auditors warn the council’s budget may not be lawful

February 2018 - the council passes a revised budget

March 2018 - inspector Max Caller publishes report recommending the county is split into two unitaries

March 2018 - council accepts the reports findings - leader Heather Smith steps down

March 2018 - Javid announces that the council will continue to make majority of decisions despite government commissioners’ involvement

April 2018 - Matthew Golby appointed new council leader 

April 2018 - Leaseback agreement of headquarters is agreed 

May 2018 - Council announces plans to set up improvement board

May 2018 - Council balances its books with the use of reserves

May 2018 - Commissioners are announced by new secretary of state James Brokenshire

May 2018 – Auditor’s interim report reveals potential figure of PHE grant repayment

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