The sign-off of Devon’s finances, which is overdue, is now nearing completion as a nationwide auditing delay continues to hit local authorities.

An audit of Devon’s accounts for the last financial year by external firm Grant Thornton was due by September. However, a draft report is now expected just before Christmas.

Peter Barber, a partner at the firm, told Devon County Council’s audit committee this week that audits of its finances and pension fund were progressing well, but the delay was linked to a systemic issue.

“Of the 497 councils and statutory public bodies that require audits, just five were signed off by the end of September,” he said.

“That reflects the challenges in the sector, which as I have written in my report, there have been various attempts by various government departments, including the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to address the backlog.”

Devon’s accounts for the 2020/21 and 2021/22 financial years received  ‘unqualified’ opinions in September and November this year, respectively, which means that an independent auditor views the accounts as fair.

Mr Barber said the audits had not yet been certified, but that this should be done soon in conjunction with the council’s senior leadership team.

He added that he hoped to be able to present the audit committee’s February 2024 meeting with reports for all three outstanding years.

A House of Commons committee report showed that by November last year, a backlog of 632 audit opinions had built up.

Audits confirm that internal views about the local authority’s finances are correct, and that the funding position of their pension fund is also established.

Mr Barber said the “bar raises every year for us to discharge our work”.

“We have challenges in terms of recruiting people to this type of role,” Mr Barber added.

“It is not attractive to some people, and some have gone from our organisation into councils.

“Some have gone the other way, but we are competing for the same people with the same skillset and the quantum of work for both sides is increasing.”