Parish audits rocket

More than 30 parish councils are withholding audit fees from Cooperskes. & Lybrand after the firm increased its charges by more than 100%.

One council saw its bill rocket by almost 500%. Horsham district council advised the parishes to withhold fees after some complained the payment would be more than their annual budget.

‘The councils expected an increase since the new audit regulations came into force, but these increases have been extremely substantial. None are under 100% and one is over 400%,’ said a spokesman for Horsham.

Brian Larner, clerk to Steyning parish council, said the scale of the increase caught it by surprise and the smaller councils could not cope. ‘We expected an increase but this is excessive. The Audit Commission will have to tell us if this is value for money,’ he said.

The Audit Commission said it had fulfilled its statutory duty by appointing an external auditor to handle the parish accounts.

‘While we are committed to keeping fees as low as possible, there is a limit to how low you can go without compromising quality. Parish councils need to lobby the secretary of state if they are concerned about their fees,’ said a commission spokeswoman.

Graham Marsden, a Coopers public-sector partner, said the increase was due to a change in accounts and audit regulations, which had made the process more complicated.

‘Considerable time was spent on the audits. Under the terms of the agreement we should get paid for that. If there is justification for a reduction they might have a point, but we are in consultation with them and will have to wait and see,’ he said.

Related reading