THE team at one of Swindon's biggest parish councils pledged to improve its bookkeeping after an audit revealed a string of major errors in their financial records.

Missing invoices and purchase orders and a lack of a risk management strategy and petty cash records left Stratton St Margaret's accounts in such dire shape that its outstanding debt could not be identified. The finance team blamed a lack of resources for the errors and promised to bounce back.

A parish council spokeswoman told the Adver:"For the preparation to transfer of Grange Leisure to Parkwood Leisure, we commissioned a more rigorous audit. 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.

"The problems revealed that we had not followed best practices. The parish council is on the way to improving the financial processes within the council as we are coming out of a period where we suffered with resourcing.

"An action plan has been put in place to rectify the areas which need improvement, along with the changes already made. We are confident that the next audit will be passed."

The biggest cause for concern involved a miscalculation in the 2018/19 parish precept. It increased by 13 per cent but the auditor deemed that, even with the increase included, the overall amount should have been £223,465 lower.

The parish council responded:"The 18/19 precept was set at £1,330,062 - this is a charge of £189.96 per annum and represents an increase of £21.85 per annum or £1.82 per month.

"This year, we received less funding and had taken on services from Swindon Borough Council which included the library and services such as litter picking, grass cutting, flower beds and hedge maintenance.

"During 2019/20, the council’s increase in its precept was a lot lower, at 3 per cent, which in part was due to the high percentage increase in 2018/19.

"However, we are presently looking at various options for the precept moving forward, in light of the audit findings.

"Stratton St Margaret Parish Council serves a population approaching 23,000. There are currently 9,388 properties in the parish and 261 streets. The parish council continues to serve the community through high levels of service for those in the large parish of Stratton St Margaret.

"It also organises the hugely popular Stratton Festival, Christmas Extravaganza, remembrance service and Community Carol Service."