Poking the bear? County Hall officials have spent seven months ignoring their auditors. Now they ask them “are you effective?”

Posted By on 22nd January 2024

By Peter Tremayne

Cornwall Council’s auditors are being invited to mark their own homework and comment on how effective they think they are.

The auditors meet on Friday to consider rules set by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountability detailing how important it is that council audit committees have to be independent.

Some of the auditors may well see this as an invitation to revisit the long list of safety questions they asked about Newquay airport and spaceport last July.  Those questions, based in part on concerns raised officially by the Health and Safety Executive, have still not been answered.

The theoretical endangerment of human life has major implications for the council’s insurance arrangements.  An accident might be not only under-insured, but the insurers could claim that the council’s failure to address H&SE concerns invalidated policies.  Such a scenario could bankrupt the council.

Much of an auditors’ job involves contemplating “what if” scenarios and auditors can be criticised if they shrink from thinking the unthinkable.

Now County Hall officials have asked the auditors to “self-assess” their effectiveness.

Of particular interest is the CIPFA rule which says auditors must “have rights of access to and constructive engagement with other committees/functions, for example scrutiny and service committees, corporate risk management boards and other strategic groups (and) have rights to request reports and seek assurances from relevant officers.”

Last July the council’s top lawyer, Henry Gordon-Lennox, told the auditors that they could not request a report on airport safety.  He said that the matter would have to be dealt with by a scrutiny committee – whose chair is a political appointment within the gift of the council leader.


How safe is Newquay Airport?  The Health & Safety Executive is concerned about the unregulated store of "hazardous substances" close to the runway.   CIPFA says the auditors should have access to information which for seven months has been denied to them.

An interim report on airport safety has so far been shared only with members of that scrutiny committee – and not with the auditors who commissioned it.


This article has 3 comments

  1. The auditors might well be ineffective BUT through no fault of their own! Their attempts to access reports, plans etc are often thwarted by devious, lying officers! This scenario is almost typified by the drama Mr Bates verses the Post Office! If you haven’t seen it you really need to!

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