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Scarborough Council's accounts cannot be signed off for third year running

Whitby Harbour
Whitby Harbour

For the third year running Scarborough Borough Council’s accounts cannot be signed off following a legal challenge.

The 2017/18 accounts will be held up as the authority is locked in a legal challenge with a group of residents over how it classifies income and expenditure from Whitby harbour.

Accounts going back to 2015/16 and 2016/17 also remain unsigned as the dispute rages on.

The Fight4Whitby pressure group launched a legal challenge in 2016 citing the 1905 Whitby Urban District Council Act, which states that income from Whitby harbour must be ringfenced for use within the harbour.

The group has been crowdfunding its legal challenge.

Scarborough Council denies this is the case and says it has “robust” legal advice which backs its stance to include income from the harbour in its general fund.

The legal dispute has meant that the accounts cannot be signed off and the standoff was described by Cllr Tom Fox, chairman of the audit committee, of being like a saga from the mind of author Frederick Forsyth.

The authority’s director of legal services, Lisa Dixon, told yesterday's Audit Committee meeting that she believes the dispute is nearing a conclusion and did not believe the council would have to go to court over the matter.

Mrs Dixon said: “It is a very complicated situation that relates to, for want of a better word, archaic legislation.

“We have taken legal advice and we are very confident in the advice we have received.

“I think we are nearing the end now.”

The council’s director of finance, Nick Edwards, said the accounts 2017/18 had been audited by Mazars, and in his report to the Audit committee wrote that if the legal dispute is settled he saw no further issues.

He wrote: “[Mazars] is expected to provide an unqualified opinion on the accounts and have praised their high standard.”

The 2017/18 aaccounts showed that the council had banked £500,000 which Mr Edwards said would be put towards helping it meet the estimated £5.2 million the authority needs to save over the coming three years.