TOWN hall chiefs have clashed over a ‘damning’ report on the authority’s finances.

Auditors Grant Thornton last month put forward recommendations after finding a catalogue of errors in Copeland Borough Council’s annual accounts stretching back many years.

However, the report also details efforts by the current administration, under Conservative mayor Mike Starkie to put things right in terms of, for example, the recruitment and retention of finance staff.

The issue was discussed at an online special council meeting on February 26 and presented by Councillor Starkie who blamed the previous administration and a “severe” cyber attack on the council in 2017.

Labour Councillor John Kane said: “You criticise the outgoing Labour administration, but you have not got it right since 2015-16. Every single year he’s been late with the accounts.”

He also said that auditors should have been at the meeting to answer questions, as did a number of other Labour councillors.

In response, Cllr Starkie said: “In 2015, we suspended the audit and it took 18 months to investigate and the accounts are sequential so we can’t finish up because an investigation in 2015 was that in-depth, the problems were that great we had a £5.1m underspend that turned into a £13.2m overspend.

“We had half a million given out in loans and no idea who they were given to.

“We then had to go through the layers of understanding all the contributing factors to why it had gone wrong.

“The council never submitted any accounts for three years, then they had to be submitted by an external firm. There were underlying problems, the problems have now been fixed.”

Labour councillor Eileen Weir, audit committee member, said she was “completely shocked” when she learnt that previous members of the audit committee said they were not encouraged to ask questions.