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Watchdog downgrades council status

A GOVERNMENT watchdog has downgraded Hyndburn Council following the chaos of its £1.8M cash crisis.

A GOVERNMENT watchdog has downgraded Hyndburn Council following the chaos of its £1.8M cash crisis.

Audit Commission inspectors visited the authority in October to carry out a comprehensive performance assessment, examining how well it delivers and implements its services.

An announcement was due in January but delayed until March, only to be postponed again.

But now opposition Labour leader Councillor Jean Battle has revealed the council was downgraded in status from "good" to "fair", and has launched an official appeal.

She said: "We were told unofficially that it was originally 'good' but it had been changed following the crisis and the council was objecting to it."

"I think this is a valid objection. The Audit Commission said we had faults in our financial control, which we already knew about and moved to fix, so I think it is unfair."

There are five possible scores: poor, weak, fair, good and excellent.

Council leader Peter Britcliffe launched a scathing attack on the Labour leader for revealing the decision.

He said: "I am amazed at her lack of standards and integrity. Under Audit Commission rules, councillors are not allowed to reveal anything about the results until they're made public by the Commission."

"Because of the terrible budget problems we inherited from Labour, and Mrs Battle in particular, the Audit Commission took a second look."

"We're confident that the tough action we took, which Mrs Battle is determined to undermine, and the measures we introduced have improved us."

Councillor Battle said she blamed neither her party nor the Conservatives for the council's downgrading. But she said council officers should have provided better advice in order to prevent the crisis.

"I wouldn't blame any party but I would blame the officers," she said. "They get paid about £50,000 a year to make sure the financial management is sound."

Councillor Britcliffe said it would not be "the end of the world" if an upgrading was not given.

A spokesman for the Audit Commission would not confirm the downgrading, but said: "We are talking through what we think we are going to say with the council. But if there is a lot of talking to do that can slow the process down."


Stuart Pike
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