NAO finds £13m discrepancy in Belfast

His report to parliament on the account’s of the Belfast peace office said there was a failure to reconcile differences between the net cash requirement of the account and the net expenditure in the audited appropriation accounts.

Bourn said: ‘The failure to reconcile fully the elements represents significant adverse audit evidence. I was unable to obtain explanations for the difference from the NIO.’

Bourn said the NIO were unable to confirm how the differences had arisen, whether they were limited in amount to £13.1m and which statements were affected.

He added: ‘I cannot therefore feel confident that the explanations for the difference lies only in an inability to identify other relevant amounts needed to achieve reconciliation.

‘I am concerned that other more fundamental errors may exist in the resource accounts.’

Furthermore, he complained that the accounts were submitted to him late, when an initial examination revealed a number of significant errors requiring them to be returned to the NIO for correction.

They finally returned at such a late date, that the Treasury had to issue a special dispensation to lift the deadline for final approval.

Bourn blamed the NIO for having too few staff with appropriate expertise and ‘little if any management review of the quality of the account before it was presented for audit’.

The NIA blamed a shortage of resources and the loss of key staff at crucial times beyond their control.

Bourn said it was essential the NIO put in place arrangements now to ensure the 2001/02 account is properly prepared and accompanied by supporting records.

NIO accounting officer Sir Joe Pillion including a note in the accounts stating he was taking reasonable steps to comply with the Treasury requirement for a statement of internal control.

Finally, Bourn said that, while he could not form an opinion whether the financial statements gave a true and fair view, in his view the expenditure and income had been applied to the purposes intended by parliament and were properly prepared, except for the reconciliation failure.

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