Keighley councillors put on the spot over damning report into accounts

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A CIVIC campaigner has told a Yorkshire council that it has failed to learn from mistakes that were identified in a damning audit report published earlier this year.

Elizabeth Mitchell, a Keighley resident whose campaigning helped expose poor governance at Keighley Town Council, claimed last night that some councillors had “played down” the seriousness of the report by independent auditors PKF Littlejohn which outlined a catalogue of poor governance issues.

Speaking to an extraordinary council meeting called to discuss the report, Mrs Mitchell said the findings had been portrayed as “historic” in nature by one councillor but this wasn’t the case.

She pointed to a recent internal audit report which, she said, “shows that the same things are going on even today”.

The most recent report is understood to raise further concerns about procedures relating to council payments to family members and failures to obtain quotes for prospective purchases in excess of £1,500 – two issues that were raised in the PKF Littlejohn report.

Mrs Mitchell handed in a petition signed by over 100 people calling on several councillors to resign. There was loud applause from the public gallery as she called on a number of councillors to step down.

Mayor Graham Mitchell – no relation – had to call for calm during bad-tempered and angry exchanges involving councillors and members of civic pressure group Cavetown, whose persistence had brought about the audit and a subsequent public interest report.

Coun Mitchell told members of the public that they were “not permitted to heckle and interrupt” the meeting.

In a statement, he said the PKF Littlejohn report had not stated that the council had broken the law and he revealed that police had not contacted the authority.

Coun Anthony Wright said the cost of the report to the council – put at more than £70,000 – was not value for money when the complaints highlighted in it were for “rather minor amounts”.

Coun Gary Pedley said it was wrong to blame parishioners who raised objections about the accounts for landing the authority with an audit bill for £73,000.

Councillors voted in favour of a motion to apologise to electors for mistakes highlighted in the audit and to say thank you to objectors for raising them.

Coun Mitchell closed the meeting by defending the honour and actions of councillors. “No one ever sat in a committee here or in full council and said ‘let’s do this because we know it’s dodgy’. Errors were never intentional or deliberate,” he said.

He criticised people for posting malicious comments on Facebook, saying: “Harsh things that have been said on social networking sites, most of them are unwarranted.”

He urged members of the public to consider standing for election to the town council.

Detectives from West Yorkshire Police’s Economic Crime Unit are liaising with auditors to see if any crimes have been committed.

Keighley MP Kris Hopkins has previously called the town council’s spending “reckless” and called for a police probe.

The audit had suggested that some of the council’s spending may have been unlawful because the authority had not complied with financial regulations.