Hold-up over Scarborough Council accounts 'could be near an end' ... but then it might go to court

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A ruling on a long-running legal challenge that has led to Scarborough Council’s accounts not being signed off for the last five years could be issued in a “matter of weeks”.

The council’s 2017/18, 2016/17 and 2015/16 accounts have been held up as the authority is locked in a legal battle with a group of residents over how it classifies income and expenditure from Whitby harbour.

Last year it was confirmed that the 2018/19 accounts had also been caught up in the row, which has stretched into 2020.

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On Thursday, the authority’s auditors Mazars said that it was currently “peer reviewing” its statement of reasons as it concludes its investigation and its final notice could be issued shortly.

Whitby harbourWhitby harbour
Whitby harbour

Mark Kirkham, partner at Mazars, told a meeting of the council’s Audit Committee that the decision could be issued “in a matter of weeks”.

Mr Kirkham said that a previous target date of August had been missed due to a delay in legal advice being received.

However, he warned that even after the conclusion is issued it may not be the end of the long process and that a potential court battle could take place.

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Mr Kirkham told councillors: “Depending on what the statement of reasons says members need to know that the elector has a right of appeal and that involves a window of 12 days after they receive the statement of reasons.

“So we are rounding the final bend.”

The challenge has come from the Fight4Whitby pressure group which launched a legal challenge in 2016 citing the 1905 Whitby Urban District Council Act, which stated that income from Whitby harbour must be ring-fenced for use within the harbour.

Audit Committee chairman Cllr Andrew Backhouse said he hoped that the accounts could be signed off in the near future.

He added: “If action is true to form with what’s happened recently I would reluctantly say the elector objector is probably going to take their 21 days to continue that challenge going forward, which will be disappointing for us all I believe.”

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Mazars has previously said that it has been required to examine financial statements of the council from every year since its formation in 1974 and study several pieces of legislation, including one that dates back to 1861.

Scarborough Council has always denied the claims of the Fight 4 Whitby Group.