In Part One of this series of articles:
Concerning Port Stephens Council’s financial affairs we covered a lot of background material:
TRRA Inc. – What we do and Why: How TRRA sees it’s role in this and what we are trying to achieve.
This Council has form…… Some of this Council’s financial History and lack of transparency in the past.
Here We Go Again…………….! “Council resolve to no longer include business units as part of Councils annual financial statements.” 08 April 2014
Documentation: TRRA Inc. reaction and what we intend to do about it
We report on the reaction of the Government and the Council to our submissions:
1. The first reaction that we got was to the letter we sent to Councillors prior to the Annual Accounts being tabled at the 25 November Meeting. The Financial Report was adopted and the Auditors Report accepted at that meeting (Moved Clr. Nell, seconded Clr. Doohan).This Mayoral Minute accompanied the minutes of the next Council Meeting on 09 December when the penny started to drop that TRRA inc. were going to be a problem.
‘”The TRRA contends that information contained within these reports was useful and served a specific purpose, particularly in relation to the Holiday Parks. It is suggested that contact will be made with the TRRA to provide a high level of financial analysis to assist them in their enquiries. The submission has been forwarded to Council’s external auditor as required by legislation.”
2. The next reaction TRAA Inc. got was from the Ombudsman, which advised us to flick it to the DLG, which we had already done.
3. The next response was from the Minister for Local Government, Paul Toole. Our letter to Sophie Costis the Shadow Minister had also been bought to his attention. The Minster indicated that as a result of our concerns he had Staff from his office meet Council Officers on 17 December and they received an undertaking that Special Purpose Financial Statements would be made available early in the new year.
4. We have now received a letter (Dated 03 Feb 2014) from Carmel Foster, Corporate Services Group Manager, PSC thanking us for the Submission that we sent on 14 December 2014, advising us that Council was preparing the Special Purpose Financial Statements and when they were audited they would be made available to TRRA Inc.
5. It Absolutely amazes us that our Councillors have just signed off on these accounts without question, given PSC’s recent form on transparency and accountability. This was revealed in the Deloitte Audit on the way they managed the Holiday Parks on Crown Land. The report was very critical of Council for aggregating everything together so that it was impossible to compare the performance of one operation with another, and mixing the business Units in with General Council Funds. We have checked, and the Councillors have exactly the same information available to them as we have. There is no way that TRRA Inc. are accepting this level of accountability and obviously the Government are not accepting it either.
6. TRRA Inc. will be meeting with Councils Financial Officer Tim Hazel ASAP to make sure that these accounts are presented promptly and contain all the data that we require, not aggregated figures ie;
- Separate, audited Financial Statements for each of the Council’s Business Units. There should be no expense or problem in producing these accounts assuming that they exist. If they don’t already exist we are even more concerned!
- TRRA would expect that PSC would, in the interests of its own prudent commercial practice, produce separate Annual Financial Statements for each of its business units and submit these to their auditor. We would expect the auditor to insist that they do this.
- Council’s executive, all Councillors and the community at large should have the opportunity to scrutinize the performance of each Business Unit to ensure that it is making a worthwhile contribution to the financial viability of the Council as a whole and if not, to ask why
- Council has previously determined under the various guidelines to classify the following activities as a “Category 2 business”.
- Property Development
- Holiday Parks
- Civil works
- Newcastle Airport
7. TRRA Inc. will be pursuing this course of action until we get the transparency and accountability that ratepayers are entitled to. If it is not provided willingly we will file formal GIPPA (freedom of information) requests and continue to pressure the Minister for Local Government for assistance. We have already submitted a Formal GIPPA request to PSC for a full accounting on the Samurai Holiday Resort recently reincarnated as the TreEscape Park.