Auditors have outlined a timetable for a “deep dive review” into Woking’s finances, admitting they don’t know what they will find as they look back into the authority’s accounts.

Incoming auditors Grant Thornton will carry out a stand alone review of the council, which effectively declared itself bankrupt in June with the issuing of a section 114 notice.

The value for money review will look at how decisions on the council’s investment strategy were made, looking at a timeline of events, at governance and the arrangements that were in place around the strategy.

It will also look at the effectiveness of council scrutiny of the decisions made.

The council’s expected £2.6 billion debt came after years of borrowing for regeneration projects, which has now left it in a position where it is unable to cover the costs and balance its budget.

The section 114 notice means the council will cut all spending for non-essential services, excluding those for the vulnerable and those required by law.

A meeting of the authority’s standards and audit committee was told auditors would not normally begin work until the next financial year, once the current year had finished, but that prompt reporting was required in such situations.

Guy Clifton, representing the auditors, said the findings were most likely to be brought back to the committee as a full report at the end of August, but that the timetable may change.

He said the value for money review, requested by the council, would be “complex”.

Mr Clifton added: “We don’t know what we will find.

“There is a chance that as we go, we might identify other areas of potential significant weaknesses that we need to explore.

“And that may mean an extension to those key lines of inquiry and obviously working closely with the council as we go through implementation.”

The council’s leader, Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, previously said that without the “understanding and accountability” that would be brought by the review it would be “significantly more challenging to build the required level of momentum behind our recovery and improvement plans”.

The terms of reference had been agreed and would be circulated to members after the meeting, the committee was told.

Mr Clifton confirmed the review had already started, and that meetings would be held with key stakeholders at the council.

While he did not want to prejudge the findings, Mr Clifton outlined the powers available to the auditors as written recommendations or a public interest report, as was issued by auditors at nearby Spelthorne following commercial property investments there.

The meeting also heard from the current auditors of the 2019/20 accounts which were yet to be signed off.

In a tetchy exchange the meeting chair described it as “trite” to say that the delay to the accounts was solely the responsibility of Woking Borough Council.

Questions around the council’s minimum revenue provision, which auditors BDO said had been raised in previous reports to the committee, had been picked up by an external consultant commissioned by the council.

Steve Bladen, a director at BDO, said the 2019/20 financial statements as they currently stood would require adjustment, and that the last few weeks had set out what a “challenging” audit it had been.

He told the meeting: “It is the council’s responsibility to prepare accounts that do give a true and fair view.

“We can in time continue to undertake audit work on them.

“But we do want to understand whether or not the council is intending to amend those accounts, because I think it’s clear as they stand at the moment they don’t give a true and fair view.”

He acknowledged that not having the accounts signed off in 2023 was not where the committee, the council, or the auditors wanted to be.

Claire Storey, the meeting chair, said the council needed to have accurate accounts and accurately audited accounts to know where it was “at all times going forward”.

In terms of the committee’s response to BDO, she said it was a case of: “Simply noting the report and continuing the dialogue in order to reach agreement between BDO and the council to move this forward because we cannot sit in this state of stasis much longer.

“And I would hope that with the section 114 now issued, the necessary pressure can be applied wherever it’s needed in order to have an out run on this that enables us to move forward.”