THE council’s handling of finances for major commercial schemes – such as Barons Quay and Winsford Cross – has been given the backing of external auditors.

In its annual audit letter for 2018-19, Grant Thornton says that Cheshire West and Chester Council has ‘adequate planning for the financial impacts of engaging in major schemes’.

It comes as the external auditor grants CWAC an ‘unqualified’ value for money opinion for 2018-19 – meaning the council is considered to have the right arrangements in place for it to be financially sustainable and well-governed.

The annual audit letter, which will be presented to CWAC’s audit and governance committee next Tuesday, said: “The council’s major schemes have a high profile but are appropriately planned, monitored and reported.

“While the council’s major schemes have potential to be multipliers of economic activity, their impact on council resources is planned, measured and proportionate.”

As part of its work, Grant Thornton has confirmed that project progress is monitored throughout the year, that risk management arrangements are in place, and that impacts on budget are reported to councillors.

The auditor has also confirmed that earmarked reserves are set aside for major projects, that the use of such reserves are planned and monitored, and that the council’s commitment to such major projects is ‘not an unreasonable or disproportionate part’ of CWAC’s capital budget.

Meanwhile, Grant Thornton praised CWAC’s regular reporting of budget updates, and confirmed that the council’s future financial preparations are based on ‘reasonable assumptions’ – adding that CWAC has a ‘sound financial position’.

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It said: “The council has continued to be managed in a way that ensures sustainable resource deployment.

“[CWAC] uses appropriate financial planning methods and produces reliable plans.”

A further £12.9 million is expected to be spent on Northgate, in Chester, and Winsford Cross over the next two years, according to this year’s council budget – while £1.6 million has been used from a specific cash reserve to plug the losses made by Barons Quay last year.