For many town and parish councils the annual audit is under-way or due to start soon. Once complete the annual notice of the audit completion must be published and the public can scrutinise the accounts supporting documents. Then comes the annual return.

The Annual Return is a document that must be completed by every Town and Parish Council as well as all Parish Meetings (Parishes without a parish council). It is the key document reporting on the financial controls and health of the the council.

Failure to complete and submit the annual return will without doubt get the council a “Report in the Public Interest”. In some cases these have included recommendations that the principal authority (Unitary, District or County Councils) undertake a community governance review to merge the failing council with a neighbour.

The Annual Return must be approved by the full council who are collectively responsible. Yet all to often councillors are denied the opportunity to review the return properly. In some councils the return is “presented” at the annual parish council for approval without allowing councillors time to exercise their duty to protect the public purse.

As a councillor it is not unreasonable to be asking now when you will be able to see the unapproved annual return. Don't be one of those who just rubber stamp the annual return.

An annual return produced for “rubber stamping” should make all councillors suspicious, who's hiding what. Good councils will allow plenty of time for consideration and crucially have the Internal auditor present to answer questions.

Allowing the person responsible for maintaining the accounting records and preparing the accounts is not a very sensible policy. After all the internal auditor must legally be independent of the council and competent.

To read what can happen click on the link below...

Lydney Town Council 2012 a significant public interest report

To help councillors and residents the following guides are available...

A CPALC 60 Second Guide (12) To The Parish Council Annual Return

A CPALC 60 Second Guide (13) To Charities and The Parish Council Annual Return

BPG 23 A CPALC Best Practice Guide to Governance and The Parish Council Annual Return

BPG 24 A CPALC Best Practice Guide to Internal Audit and The Parish Council Annual Return

The guides are practical documents written to help clerks prepare for the approval of the annual return and provide councillors with examples of the questions they should be asking.