Audit Committee becomes Southend’s first remote meeting

Southend Council has successfully hosted its first public meeting since the coronavirus pandemic by streaming over the internet.

The milestone Audit Committee took place on Wednesday night and meeting chair Councillor Paul Collins called it the “future” for the council while social distancing restrictions are in place.

During the meeting, councillors heard that the coronavirus pandemic was impacting an evaluation of the council’s annual accounts which is due by November following an extension from the end of July.

It was highlighted by external auditor Deloitte that one of the biggest difficulties in carrying out an audit of the accounts is accurately knowing the value of council assets which includes properties such as car parks and their income, as well as other properties and equipment.

Presently those assets have been valued at £41.3million as of March 31, 2019, but this could change as a result of the virus’ impact to the economy.

Speaking during the meeting, Craig Wisdom of Deloitte said: “Valuation of properties and equipment, you will be aware that those are held at their value in the accounts and every year the council gets input from valuers as to what value they should be held at in the balance sheet.

“But because of the current environment most valuers if not all valuers are providing valuations but they are doing material uncertainty clauses which means is they are comfortable they can provide a value but be aware there is uncertainty linked to that valuation.”

“The impact of Covid-19 has had a significant impact on all asset valuations.

He continued: “This is not unique to Southend, this is an issue across the public sector and indeed the private sector as well. Virtually all public sector organisations, and that includes health, will be drawing attention to this issue.”

Other challenges highlighted in the meeting included the increased risk of fraud due to changes in the way people are working and communication problems as a result of remote working.

Despite this, Mr Wisdom said the goal was to still deliver the audit in time for the original July deadline.

The meeting took place using a Microsoft meeting platform called Teams with audio being streamed to the council’s website, which was accessible to the public.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter