UPDATED: Council accused of wasting money on a £14,000 report it "then hoped to bury"
A town council has been accused of wasting thousands of pounds on an accountant’s report - it then hoped to bury.
The claim was made by one of the founding members of Diss Corn Hall Trust, which, along with Diss Town Council and Diss Museum, began the original project to create the Heritage Triangle.
Former trust chairman David Case, pictured, accused the town council of spending £10,000 on an “unfinished report” by Ensors Accountants and accepting its conclusions as final, despite trust objections.
Mr Case, who handled the trust’s funds during the project, said the council’s behaving was “bizarre, evasive and shameful”.
He said: “At the end of 2017, the council wanted to reconcile the project funding and expenditure, but, rather than asking members of the Corn Hall Trust team to sort out queries, it employed Ensors Accountants to do a snap-shot audit on the funds that the trust had raised for the town project, some £600,000.
“Ensors had a very limited budget and time to do the work and its draft report had many factual errors to which the trust replied with six pages of detailed points within a couple of days of receipt of the draft, in February 2018.
“Despite objections, the council saw fit in August to accept the report in its draft form. Why did the council accept a document in such a state?
“It had ample evidence showing that the report was flawed, following several meetings with the trust and correspondence.”
The Heritage Triangle project began in 2010 with Diss Corn Hall Trust, the town council and Diss Museum in a joint bid to win funds to improve the historic town centre.
Over the following eight years, the partnership raised more than £3 million, completing the triangle project, which involved restoring the Corn Hall and redesigning the area, in August 2017.
The majority funding, 56 per cent, came from the Heritage Lottery Funding. Local people gave £125,000 and the town council £300,000.
The Diss Express has been told that the town council called in accountants to assess how money was used by the Corn Hall Trust in relation to wages paid to staff and other projects, such as The Corn Hall on Tour.
Mr Case added: “My view is that when the council received the trust’s comments to Ensors’ draft, they realised they had spent well over £10,000 on a half-finished inquiry and that all the accounting was in fact in order.
“My suspicion is that they simply failed to pass on the trust’s comments to Ensors, as further investigation would be throwing good money after bad. As a result, they accepted a misleading report which it appears they hoped to bury.
“I understand that, a year on from the report being queried by the trust, the council now agrees with the trust’s view of the situation. Nevertheless, in effect, they have accepted an unfinished document which is critical of those who spent years on the project.
“The council’s behaviour has been bizarre, evasive and shameful.”
In response, a spokeswoman for the town council said the decision to appoint Ensors had been a joint decision.
She said: “As part of the good governance of the £3.4 million Heritage Triangle Project, Diss Town Council and Diss Corn Hall Trust jointly commissioned Ensors in late 2017 to confirm that all grant funding received for the project had been expended according to the Heritage Lottery Fund approved purposes and the individual grant funders’ requirements.
“Ensors, a professional accountancy firm, wrote the report based on its findings at the time and it was received in August 2018. The cost of the audit at £14,000 was met from town council reserves.
“The council has since been working with the Corn Hall trustees and, now that the project has completed, an addendum has been produced which confirms that all of the grants and funds raised by DCHT, together with £30,000 pledged from its own reserves, have been applied to the project in accordance with HLF and the individual grant funders’ requirements.
“This, together with Ensors’ independent expert report and project-related aspects of the council’s annual financial audit of its accounts, will be incorporated into the end of project report, which will be presented to full council at its March meeting.”
In response, Mr Case insisted the report had not been jointly commissioned.
Mayor Trevor Wenman told Park Radio on Wednesday, that the report had not been made public as it had yet to be discussed in full by Diss Town Council.
"What we were trying to ensure is that something had not gone wrong with this complicated financial project, which could have left the town council with a rather large bill.
"If the money had not been spent properly, and say the heritage lottery fun wanted it back, we could have been left with a rather large bill, a four, five, six figure sum and that would have been a problem for tax payers."
Mr Wenman said the council was due to discuss the report on March 20.
When asked if the Ensor report was available to view: a council spokeswoman, said: "The Ensors independent expert report and project related aspects of the council's annual financial audit of its accounts will be incorporated into the end of Project report, which will be presented to full council at its March meeting. The report has not yet been received by council and once it has, it will be available to the public as are all such documents."