AUDIT costs at a minimum of £572,000 have been questioned at a Dorset council meeting.

The fee, from accountancy firm Grant Thornton, is reported to be 150% more than previous charges for the annual audit of council accounts.

Murray Jackson, from the auditors, told councillors that the increased fee was because of the growing complexity, and risks, of the work – in a market which did not have enough specialists to meet everyone’s needs.

A meeting of Dorset Council’s audit and governance committee heard that the council’s 2021-22 audit report, being undertaken by another firm, Deloitte, had still not been completed although it should be finished by September.

Part of the reasons for this is said to be the complexity of the task and changes in the requirements from the Government's local government team, as the audit was proceeding.

Councillors were told that Dorset is one of many councils whose audit work is behind schedule and costing more each year.

Independent member of the audit and governance committee Simon Roach, questioned the level of fees at a meeting on Monday evening. He asked if the council would be getting a better service because of the increased cost, and if the work would be completed in time.

Mr Jackson said he could not guarantee completion by September, the target date, as his company was partially relying on the 21-22 audit also due for completion by then.

He said that the fee was the minimum level the council could expect to pay as any extra work would have to be charged for with the fee set on the assumption that there were no complications in the facts and figures to be provided to it by the council’s finance team.

For both annual audits councillors were told that the accountants might have to issue a ‘disclaimer opinion’ if their work cannot be fully completed.

Mr Roach said he was left “feeling a little dissatisfied” by the response and the ‘relatively expensive’ fee being charged.

Committee chairman, Cllr Gary Suttle, the portfolio holder for finance at the council until May, said he hoped the audit work would be over by September because having incomplete accounts caused the authority problems in future budget setting when it set about the work in January and February.