ST Helens Council delivers ‘value for money’ in its use of resources, an external auditer has said.

Under the National Audit Office (NAO) Code of Audit Practice, when carrying out an audit on local authorities, auditors are required to say whether it has proper arrangements in place.

In its audit findings for 2017-18, Grant Thornton concluded St Helens Council had ‘proper arrangements in all significant respects to ensure it delivered value for money in its use of resources’.

Grant Thornton director Robin Baker presented the findings to the council’s audit and governance committee on Monday.

He said: “We note the council continues to monitor its financial position on a regular basis both to make progress in terms of implementing the 2020 vision plan and in particular is taking steps in moving forward with working with health partners around St Helens on the St Helens Cases model.

“So, it’s our intention to offer an unqualified value for money conclusion.”

However, the auditor’s findings identified future budget pressures as a significant risk going forward.

“The council’s future budgets remain challenging with further savings of £13.1 million required to be delivered in 2018-19 and 2019-20 whilst managing financial pressures in order to deliver a balanced revenue budget position over that period,” the report says.

“As part of its 2020 vision for St Helens, the council is looking to regenerate the town centre and continue to deliver on its ambitious plans to regenerate the borough, including Parkside Colliery.

“We have monitored the council’s budgetary performance and financial planning.

“We have also considered the processes established by the council to identify, manage and monitor the savings proposals to address the budget gap to 2020.

“We updated our understanding of the arrangements for overseeing the council’s support for the regeneration of St Helens.”

The auditor concluded: “We are satisfied, on the basis of the areas reviewed, that the council’s arrangements for financial management, reporting and budget setting, and its work with partners towards its strategic objectives, are adequate.”

Grant Thornton also reviewed the authority’s financial statements as part of the audit.

The auditor identified the valuation of land and buildings revaluations and impairments as a risk requiring ‘special audit consideration’.

In October 2017 the council purchased the freehold interest in Church Square for £28.3 million.

The asset has been revalued by specialist external valuers, for inclusion in the financial statements, and has been treated as a regeneration asset and valued at £27.2 million.

Cllr Rob Reynolds, Conservative councillor for Rainford, asked why the valuation is £1.1 million lower than its purchase price.

“All assets, whether Church Square or any other asset, has to be valued in accordance with standards which set out how an asset should be valued,” Mr Baker said.

“There is almost always a difference between how much you might pay for an asset or how much you want to sell an asset and how you then account for that and put that into the balance sheet.

“So, the two things are different for understandable and appropriate reasons.

“And so that valuation will reflect the valuer’s professional opinion about how that should be valued and included on the balance sheet.”

Mr Baker told the committee he intends to issue an unqualified opinion on the financial statements for 2017-18 confirming they present a ‘true and fair view of the council’s financial position’.

The committee noted the report and approved the letter of representation on behalf of the council.