AUDITORS slammed staff at Swindon's biggest parish council after uncovering major flaws in its chaotic financial records.

A new report leaked to the Adver revealed a catalogue of significant errors that have left Stratton St Margaret parish council's accounts in dire shape.

These include:

-So many missing invoices, purchase orders and approvals that the auditor could not confirm that the council's finance team had done their job properly.

-Outstanding debt could not be identified.

- The parish's 2018/19 budget of £1,330,062 had been calculated incorrectly - the precept amount which is paid through council tax should have been £223,465 lower.

-No risk management scheme was in place for the last year.

- A lack of petty cash records meant that VAT had not been properly accounted for or reclaimed.

- The software used to keep track of the parish's finances did not allow for mistakes to be fixed easily.

-Delays in setting up access to the online banking system for the finance officers meant that inaccurate bank details for some suppliers could not be changed, so incorrect payments made during these delays will have to be written off.

Only two out of Swindon Internal Audit Services' 10 inspection areas had no major issues - staff salary payments and maintaining an asset register.

Rat Trap landlord Mark Richardson said: “It’s a shambles, it’s despicable. If they were running a business, they would be out, they should be more careful with our money.”

Kevin Tanner, 58, said: “This shows that the parish is badly managed, incompetent and inept, using parishioner’s money inefficiently and ineffectively.

“How can people so incapable be in this position of authority?As a parishioner, it’s frustrating because it seems like they aren’t held accountable or answer to anyone.”

Peter Brown, 64, said: “I can’t believe their finances are in such a mess, I have no trust in them at all.”

Wife Claire Brown, 49, agreed: “Words fail me, it’s not good enough, how can they lose orders and invoices, that’s basic stuff.”

The Adver asked if the parish's precept calculation mistake had led to residents paying more tax than necessary but could not get a clear answer.

The mistake came from including costs in the budget that would actually be paid for using reserve funds.

The precept had increased by 13 per cent in 2018 to pay for community events, park maintenance and devolved services used by its 23,000 residents including the running of Beechcroft Library and StreetSmart services like litter picking, grass cutting, flower beds and hedge maintenance. This year's precept has risen by a further three per cent to £1,369,864.

A Stratton St Margaret Parish Council spokeswoman said: “As part of the preparation to transfer the operation of the leisure centre to Parkwood Leisure, the councillors and clerk of the council commissioned an audit of our financial procedures.

“The subsequent report revealed a number of procedural weaknesses but the audit confirmed that there was no evidence of any improper conduct or fraudulent acts by any employee or councillor.

“The problems revealed that we had not followed best practices as we should have. An action plan has been put in place to rectify the areas which need improvement and we are confident that the next audit will be passed with flying colours.”

The parish council requested an internal audit last year but this year’s report revealed that issues raised months ago had not been addressed.

Auditor Nikki Soave wrote: “The senior finance officer and ledger clerk were new to working in parish councils and did not have experience of the finance package used. They have appropriate accounting experience [but] have needed support. This support has been limited and inconsistent.

“There were issues previously with the standard of record keeping and financial practices which has impacted on the current year’s records. A significant amount of work has been carried out to ensure consistency, accountability and compliance with financial regulations, however… this has not been successful.

“Certain actions, such as exploring alternative software solutions to improve accounting procedures could not be progressed until a decision was made on the future of the leisure centre.”

Parkwood Leisure have since taken over management of Grange Leisure in partnership with the parish.