The (B)ARMY Game (‘Excused Boobs’ Brisley)
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, continuing a detailed examination first covered in an earlier article entitled “Potto Council’s Internal Auditor: Incompetent – or What?” in which damning comparisons emerged between the audit work of the Internal and External Audits of Potto Parish Council, the former being excused ‘boobs’ on the grand scale. (All Potto articles may be reviewed here).
Readers are, of course, free to visit (or revisit) my earlier article – and are recommended to do so.
In my view, it would be remiss of anyone concerned with probity in public life not to be aware of this information and, having seen it clearly illustrated, to simply disregard it. The accounting of public funds is, without any room for discussion, a matter of conspicuous public interest. It is every elector’s right to raise such matters with the appropriate public authorities and professional bodies, as and when they arise.
“I do not intend to waste my time or the Parish Council and its electors monies answering the issues raised by you. You have the right to address the issues you raise with the External Auditors. I do not consider that I am obliged (or even authorised) by law or regulations to consider with you the matters raised. I should add that much of the issues raised by you are outside the remit of my work as Internal Auditor and I would be unable to comment in any event.”
Mr BRISLEY was determined not to “waste his time” on matters of financial control, etc., even redirecting the whistleblower to the External Auditor, whose time is considerably more expensive.
“The council, who remain responsible for the ‘effectiveness’ of the internal audit work, need to be aware of this serious ‘weakness’, as it engages directly with Assertion 6 on the council’s Annual Governance Statement. Whilst providing false and fraudulent assertions on the Annual Returns has unfortunately become routine as this council, such maladministration does, obviously, invite robust Objections to be sent to the External Auditor. The time and effort spent to investigate these OIbjections will likely incur significant disbursement of public money.”
“Last year I raised concerns with you about the council’s effectiveness of its risk management, internal control and governance processes. Your response was that “I do not intend to waste my time or the Parish Council and its electors monies answering the issues raised by you”.The council’s external auditors have now been investigating and substantiating these irregularities since 2014. I contend that it is not a ‘waste of your time’ for you to bring a systematic and disciplined approach to these matters – it is the task you are paid to do”.
“I can only conclude, therefore, that ‘you don’t intend to waste your time’ again on these same issues for the current 2018-19 AGAR at Potto council. However, the words in my email to you dated 2nd June 2019 were carefully copied from the relevant Regulations and guides that describe your responsibilities. It follows, therefore, using your words, that you are not intending to ‘waste your time’ in abiding by these Regulations and guides, whilst undertaking the internal audit of Potto council’s 2018-19 AGAR.In light of this revelation, I can conclude only that your internal audit for the 2018-19 AGAR is not ‘effective’“
“I now consider you are a vexatious correspondent and must inform you that I will not answer or acknowledge any further correspondence from you.”
“However, I find that Potto council has now reached the top of SAAA’s list. It seems that out of 9,789 smaller authorities, 9,786 are performing better than Potto council: see evidence below. I think this fact should be a cause for real concern and the reasons for this dire performance should be recorded in your internal audit report.”
Make no mistake; Mr BRISLEY was attempting to nullify the whistleblower’s statutory rights.
Mr BRISLEY then added further insult to this injury:
“Secondly the substance of your email is in polite parlance utter rubbish”.
“Utter rubbish”? Where have I heard that before? Oh, yes. Maggie OLIVER’s two reports were purportedly “utter rubbish”. Dozens of successful prosecutions later, they were fully vindicated.
Clearly, Mr Roger BRISLEY FCA was previously unaware that the substance of the whistleblower’s email was, in fact, an extract from the SAAA Annual Report.
In contrast to the whistleblower, Mr BRISLEY was talking through his fundament – and in a tone to match. What an offensively arrogant attitude. Conversely, readers will find that the whistleblower’s tone, manner and language is always beyond reproach.
Mr BRISLEY then resorted to stating palpable nonsense:
“…a consequence of the External Auditors not having completed reviews of large volumes of correspondence you have sent them. They have a statutory duty to consider your complaints though one might wonder how long it will be before they too seek advice as to whether they should in fact treat you as a vexatious complainant.”
Several of the claims in this paragraph are inaccurate and/or just plain false. External Auditors do NOT have a statutory duty (or indeed any remit at all) to ‘consider’ a ‘complaint’; nor do they have a statutory duty to ‘consider’ ‘objections’. For a Chartered Accountant, Mr BRISLEY seems hopelessly unfamiliar with the correct terminology.
External Auditors do have a statutory duty to comply with NAO AGN 04, which sets out the three steps prerequisite to handling Formal Objections (not ‘complaints’):
To be ‘eligible’ (Step 1), Objections must satisfy a long list of criteria;
Only if ALL of the above criteria have been overcome does an Objection move to Step 3, which is when the External Auditor does actually begin to ‘consider’ an Objection.
Accordingly, readers may recognise that Mr BRISLEY’s statement “auditors have a duty to consider…” is threefold poppycock. Either the man does not know his own business – or he was spewing out falsehoods in the forlorn hope of deterring the whistleblower from pursuing the matter further. In this, he failed.
Mr BRISLEY states to the whistleblower:
“…you have been labelled by the Court as a vexatious complainant as regards to your voluminous correspondence with the Parish Council.”
This is a blatantly false. And insulting. Back to “The Barmy Game”. Yet again.
It is clear that Mr BRISLEY affects to believe that the whistleblower is a “vexatious” complainant; indicative of Mr BRISLEY’s unprofessional and skewed mind-set. The fact is that no Court has ever labelled the whistleblower “vexatious”, nor is ever likely to.
I suspect that Mr BRISLEY, in his ignorance, may be referring to an Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) finding that a 2018 FOIA request was considered “vexatious”:
But the ICO’s Guidance specifically notes that the term “vexatious” cannot be applied to the requestor – only to the request itself:
So in fact, and yet again, Mr BRISLEY, a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW), resorted to malicious and demonstrably false assertions with, I would contend, the specific intention of undermining and belittling a legitimate whistleblower. This conduct is, in my view, unethical and certainly does NOT accord with “the highest standards of professional conduct” – indeed, it is clearly a serious and determined breach of the ICAEW Professional Standards and its Code of Conduct, which states:
Mr BRISLEY then stated (not without a soupçon of sarcasm):
“What relevance the External Audit remaining open for two years has as a benchmark for inferring some lack of performance by the Parish Council in these circumstances is lost on me. I think you might have trouble explaining it to me but please feel free to try.”
The whistleblower then accepted that the Council’s dire performance was ‘lost’ on Mr BRISLEY – but I would contend that Mr BRISLEY had already demonstrated that he did not understand, or affected not to understand, the extent of his remit and the chaos he, through his real or affected ignorance, has effectively condoned.
Mr BRISLEY concluded his email by again reiterating his antagonistic comments from 2018 and 2019 – he “doesn’t intend to waste his time…”, etc.
There is not the slightest element of contrition or any glimmer of appreciation that this comment does not achieve “the highest standards”, as required by the ICAEW Ethical Code.
Repeatedly – year after year, response after response – Mr BRISLEY acted in breach of the Code and, in my view, thereby brought himself and the ICAEW into disrepute. When his comments are juxtaposed with the facts as stated in the PIR, they become even more starkly unacceptable. It has been confirmed to me by the ICAEW that multiple departures from the Code are currently being investigated.
On 21st May 2021, the whistleblower renewed contact with Mr BRISLEY, who responded by asking the whistleblower to ‘share the legal basis’ that he, the whistleblower, relied upon to contact the Internal Auditor.
The whistleblower promptly did so, quoting the National Audit Office (NAO) Guide.
Mr BRISLEY then stated that he was unwilling or unable to confirm if the scope of his work (as per the whistleblower’s email, timed and dated at 16.06pm on 21st May 2021) was/is “financial only”, or whether it was/is as per the scope of the PSIIA Report.
I would suggest that Mr BRISLEY evaded answering because either (i) he genuinely did not know – a damning indictment of his entire professional performance throughout this whole matter – or (ii) because it suited him to affect not knowing, or (iii) he was attempting to shield the Chair and the Clerk from being exposed as hopelessly incompetent.
Mr BRISLEY’s email dated 4th June 2021 included a catalogue of unprofessional comments:
a) Mr BRISLEY claimed to ‘be aware of his duties and responsibilities’ – but, markedly, he was unable to confirm what they were (!) and evaded the whistleblower’s overarching but simple question regarding the scope of those duties.
b) Mr BRISLEY claimed the whistleblower had ‘provided no description of the concerns’ – but, this is patently false. The whistleblower’s email to Mr BRISLEY dated 2nd May 2018 included a list of these concerns, but Mr BRISLEY responded that he ‘would not waste his time on these concerns’.
The Council has explicit and full copies of the formal Complaints and Objection letters and Mr BRISLEY, as Internal Auditor, has full and unfettered access to all such data. Mr BRISLEY is insinuating that he is unable to act because he does not know what the whistleblower’s ‘concerns’ are, but his response is both disingenuous and obstructive. If the whistleblower had re-sent the concerns, as already itemised on 2nd May 2018, Mr BRISLEY would no doubt simply have reverted to ‘would not waste his time’.
c) Mr BRISLEY then contradicted his earlier claim regarding ‘unidentified concerns’ and stated that the whistleblower made claims of serious irregularities in prior years (which is true), concluding:
“These have not been subtantiated.”
This totally disingenuous claim by Mr BRISLEY seeks to suggest that the whistleblower’s concerns had not been proven to be correct, but the fact of the matter is that the whistleblower’s concerns have been proven correct (reference: the PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP Audit Reports and remedial Action Plans for the Council’s Annual Accounts for 2014/15 and 2015/16).
Moreover, PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP was unable at this time (June 2021) to issue its Annual Reports for four years because of the sheer volume of ‘procedural improprieties’ committed by Potto Parish Council. PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP had previously issued a letter (dated 8th March 2021) confirming that a full formal Audit Investigation was preparing to examine no less than 97 extremely serious isues (each of which was, in due course, fully validated – as stated in the PIR). Did the Council not share this catastrophic information with the Internal Auditor? I wonder . . .
I contend that it is demonstrable that Mr BRISLEY lacks the capacity to recognise the validity of the whistleblower’s serious concerns, even when faced with robust evidence confirming and emphasising that validity. This is highly unprofessional and a clear breach of his duty under the ICAEW Ethical Code.
d) Mr BRISLEY then stated that the whistleblower must report the matter to the Police, but whistleblowers have no such duty. However, to clarify, the North Yorkshire Police has been involved, since August 2022, with complaints of harassment and intimidation carried out by a member of Potto Parish Council against whistleblowers.
Furthermore, I am given to understand that the Police remit has now been broadened to include allegations of financial fraud; enquiries apparently remain ongoing, so I cannot comment further at this time.
e) Next, Mr BRISLEY stated:
“You have been labelled as a vexatious complainant by the authorities.”
However, Mr BRISLEY was simply repeating the libellous falsehoods peddled to him by the ‘directing mind(s)’ at the Council. Furthermore, the whistleblower fully recognised that Objections can be rejected by the External Auditor if they are considered “vexatious” (ref: para.32 of AGN-04 – see above) and PKF LITTLEJOHN LLP has not rejected or classified any of the Potto Objections as “vexatious”.
f). Mr BRISLEY then stated:
“I also regard you as such.”
“The Barmy Game” – again and again.
I would contend that to write to a member of the public who is raising serious concerns regarding irregularities within the Parish Council’s accounts (and the integrity of the Internal Audit) in such defamatory terms is by no means a minor or trivial violation. It is digraceful, by any professional standards.
Further, the significance and seriousness of Mr BRISLEY’s breach of the Ethical Code is exacerbated because he must know that he has no evidence to support his offensive allegations.
Demonstrably, all the concerns raised by whistleblowers, complainants and objectors have been verified ‘by the authorities’ – not one authority has ever labelled any Potto whistleblower a “vexatious complainant”.
Finally, to compound Mr BRISLEY’s gross lack of professionalism, he has refused to acknowledge his outrageous conduct or his spurious Audit Reports, or that the ‘tone, manner and language’ of his correspondence was wholly inappropriate and unacceptable. He has refused to apologise to the whistleblower.
On 6th April 2022, the whistleblower sent Mr BRISLEY another email – Mr BRISLEY did not even acknowledge receipt, much less respond in a professional manner.
It seems to me that I owe it to Mr BRISLEY to point out that I have no issue with him personally. My interest extends only to his work as Internal Auditor, paid from the public purse and supported by the public trust – he is a paid public servant.
In the event that Mr BRISLEY elects to no longer undertake Potto Parish Council’s Annual Internal Audit, I will have nothing further of substance to report about him. I have made this known to the ICAEW, whose Professional Standards department has confirmed to me that a detailed examination of Mr BRISLEY’s professional performance is already underway.
As far as can be determined from the public record, Mr BRISLEY is yet to be confirmed as Internal Auditor for the 2022/23 financial year.
On 26th January 2023, a 309-page document appeared on the Potto Parish Council website, much of it irrelevant. However, squirreled away on Page 290, I encountered the following Table:
This is perhaps the most bizarre document I have yet seen on a website bursting at the seams with inconsistencies and arrant nonsense.
Consider the 2020/21 figures, above.
Despite unattributed ‘Grants and Donations’ amounting to £4,650.00, the unbudgeted (i.e. unlawful) outlay of (i) £10,180.00 (the ‘bridleway’ project) and (ii) £4,480.00 (the Swarco speed-sign project), together totalling £14,660.00, a budget deficit of £6,153.00 is recorded – thereby confirming unbudgeted expenditure 153% over the legal limit.
And this without fourteen items in the ‘Actual’ column and three items in the ‘Budget’ column being entirely absent.
What would any Internal Auditor worth her/his salt make of all this?
May best suggestion would be this: A hasty departure!