A public interest report, has been issued by the external auditor. Investigating Somerton Town Council's sale of land at Etsome Terrace, its purchase of 8 Cary Court, and its conversion of 8 Cary Court to a community hall, during the financial year ended 31 March 2009.
The report finds that the Council:
- made decisions that were unlawful and may have resulted in unlawful expenditure;
- failed to take into consideration relevant information;
- made decisions at confidential meetings that had not been properly convened, and also at informal meetings that had no official status;
- failed to ensure that proper declarations of interest were made;
- allowed an individual councillor to act on its behalf without proper delegated authority or control; and
- failed to adequately budget for, or to monitor, expenditure on the conversion of 8 Cary Court to a community hall.
The report says there were significant failings during 2008/09 in the Council's governance arrangements and internal controls. These failings demonstrate an abuse of the public funds held in the Council's care.
External auditor and report author Andrew Vince, of Moore Stephens, said:
"In my opinion the Council sold Etsome Terrace without taking the proper steps to ensure that the sale price was the best available. It purchased 8 Cary Court and converted it to a community hall without first determining that it would meet the needs of the community."
"The Council failed to properly budget and monitor the cost of converting the building to a community hall. When the eventual cost was more than twice that originally expected, the Council was unable to demonstrate why the overspend had been necessary."
"The practice of holding informal, unofficial and unminuted meetings of some councillors meant the Council was unable to subsequently demonstrate that it considered all relevant information when making decisions."
"The Council has taken significant action since 2008/09 to improve its governance arrangements to ensure that failings like this will not occur again."