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Town hall ownership confusion hits NI council's account book

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Members of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council were told on Tuesday that the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) could not certify the accounts because title of the properties had not been proven

Members of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council were told on Tuesday that the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) could not certify the accounts because title of the properties had not been proven

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Members of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council were told on Tuesday that the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) could not certify the accounts because title of the properties had not been proven

A council's accounts have gone uncertified after official auditors were unable to verify that the local authority owned two town halls and a leisure centre.

Members of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council were told on Tuesday that the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) could not certify the accounts because title of the properties had not been proven.

The council's accounts were recommended for approval at the March meeting of its audit committee and were before the full council for ratification prior to being signed off on March 31.

However, director of corporate services Moira Quinn updated members in the virtual council chamber on correspondence she had received that afternoon from Collette Quinn, the director of audit for the NIAO.

The email said: "In recent days, we have been made aware that council's financial statements include significant value buildings which the council has no proven title to. These include Portstewart Town Hall, Coleraine Town Hall and possibly the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre.

"Unfortunately, the inclusion of these assets where the title is not proven is a matter of material uncertainty in financial statements and we would now have to consider the impact of them on the audit opinion.

"We understand there may be additional buildings which the council occupies for which title is not proven. I would appreciate your consideration of this matter and whether the issues could be resolved quickly to enable certification of the statements."

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On the matter of ownership, Mrs Quinn said: "The Joey Dunlop Centre is easy, members. We do have title for it. Portstewart Town Hall is currently being considered and progressed through the council and I understand Coleraine Town Hall will be resolved very shortly."

Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane asked Mrs Quinn for further clarity, saying: "So, basically, the Audit Office is not signing off. Is that because of our expenditure of public funds on buildings we know we don't own?

"This is public finance. We are custodians of the public purse, I would like further clarity as to why it's being held off."

Mrs Quinn informed Ms McShane that the issue was not with the expenditure on the buildings, but that the Audit Office "feels there is a risk if they are on our balance sheet without the council having the legal title".

Council chief executive David Jackson informed members that the ownership of the properties would "be resolved in a matter of days".

Belfast Telegraph


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