Revealed: Council carrying out audit of Shrewsbury North West Relief Road project
A council audit is being carried out into the North West Relief Road project but has hit delays, it has been revealed.
Shropshire Council’s director of resources, James Walton, said the review was ordered by the authority’s audit committee in February but the details were not made public.
Speaking at a meeting of the committee on Thursday, Mr Walton said the outcome of the review would be presented at a future meeting – but he could not confirm when this might be, as officers were still waiting for information from other departments.
The comments were made in response to a question from Liberal Democrat councillor David Vasmer, asking whether the finances of the project could be investigated “as a matter of urgency”.
Councillor Vasmer said the road “could present a real threat to the financial stability of the council”, after a meeting of the full council last week saw councillors vote for a £95 million increase in the budget for the scheme when the figure was mistakenly left in a report.
Even if the project were to fall through, he said the £24 million already spent could bankrupt the authority.
Councillor Vasmer said: “Both scenarios could prompt the issue of a section 114 notice making the council in effect bankrupt.
“Will the audit committee now investigate the funding of the NWRR as a matter of urgency?
“Failure to do so may result in future investigations as to why the committee did not manage risk as it is required to do.”
In response, Mr Walton said: “The audit committee approved the internal audit plan for 2023/24 in February, and this included an audit of the North West Relief Road project.
“This audit is currently in progress and appears to cover the key elements of your question.”
Mr Walton said the review was looking into a number of aspects of the project including ensuring that appropriate governance, project management and administrative arrangements are in place.
He said: “The internal audit will examine the process for establishing an approved budget, authorising expenditure and the process for monitoring and reporting the financial position.
“It may also challenge the validity of assumptions around projections.”
Mr Walton said the results of the audit would be shared with the committee once the report is finalised in line with normal process, but added: “The audit work has been delayed due to outstanding requests for information with the service area and the contract.
“If required, an update can be provided at the November committee meeting, however we can’t guarantee the report will be finalised and reported at that meeting.”
Councillor Vasmer asked when the final report would be ready, saying: “I think this is a matter of some urgency now given the financial situation and given the figures I have been through.
“If it doesn’t come to committee very soon then I would consider referring this to the auditor because of my concerns.”
Councillor Brian Williams, chairing the meeting, said the committee would examine “as much information as our staff can make available” at its November meeting.
But Councillor Vasmer further pressed the issue, saying: “It is a matter of urgency, I think this needs to be given top priority.”
Councillor Williams responded: “I think we would agree with you on that, I think there will be cross-party agreement across the whole council on that.
“I can assure you that I will be pressing James and other relevant officers to ensure that the most comprehensive account possible is available in November.”
Following the meeting, Mr Walton explained that the annual audit plan “is not published and individual audits are not separately detailed in public reports”.