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Opinion: GBC’s Accounting Error is Serious – But It Is Not the Time for a Blame Game

Published on: 23 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 24 Jul, 2023

By Bernard Quoroll

former independent person at GBC and local authority chief executive

See: Guildford Officers Find £10m Accounting Error

Another fine mess?

I watched the online Corporate Governance and Standards Committee meeting on Tuesday (July 18) with interest. Not much new financial information but some reassurance that the officer team is developing a considered response and is not (yet) panicking.

The less good news is that despite the multiplicity of causes recited in the report, this is more than just the result of a bit of externally induced bad luck. Most worrying was the repeated reference to a lack of in-house capacity in financial control, risk management and, by implication, governance but even that is unlikely to be the full picture.

A good starting point, once the full extent of the problem has been identified, would be to conduct a skills audit at every level, so as to build sufficient capacity to avoid a repetition in future, not just in the Finance Department.

Before that, GBC needs to think very deeply about what skills it needs longer-term – budget control, procurement, project management, risk management, negotiating skills and commercial acumen more generally all need to be considered. Without that, “strengthening the finance team” may just be papering over cracks.

See also: Guildford’s £10m Accounting Error Discovered in March

Meanwhile, it seems that the financial repercussions will have to be severe and more than just a bit of cash flow management. The council may not be in Section 114 territory today but they could be by October and the measures they are already beginning to take will not feel very different. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

GBC’s top managers have the advantage of being relatively new in post. Some of our senior elected representatives are less so. I notice that inter-party bickering and name-calling has already started. This is not the time to get diverted by that. GBC’s problems are too serious to become mired in a blame game. This is a time for leadership not bickering.

The temptation, once the dust has settled, will be to breathe a sigh of relief and try to move on organisationally and politically without learning all the lessons but that would be a mistake. GBC would also be unwise to try to fix its problems without external challenge.

If there is insufficient understanding of how GBC needs to change and insufficient commitment to dealing with root causes, GBC’s future finances may otherwise begin to look like Groundhog Day.

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Responses to Opinion: GBC’s Accounting Error is Serious – But It Is Not the Time for a Blame Game

  1. Frank Emery Reply

    July 24, 2023 at 6:22 pm

    If this accounting error was discovered in March the culprit should have been identified and removed from post. Have they been? Yes or no? If no, why not?

    The name of the culprit is really irrelevant so long as lessons have been learned and the person is no longer in post.

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