A COMMUNITY council in Blaenau Gwent has been criticised by Audit Wales for historic “unlawful payments” and “governance failings.”

Abertillery and Llanhilleth community council (ALLCC) is one of three councils to receive a public interest report prepared in accordance with Section 22 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004.

The report by Audit Wales executive director for Audit Services Ann-Marie Haking found the council spent £84,651 on staff related expenditure for that year.

This includes £19,522.18 to the clerk and £23,858.64 to the secretary in the form of one-off gratuity payments on the termination of their employments in October 2014.

But, the report says, these payments should have been capped at £4,532.40 and £7,968.52 , and the clerk at the time should not have been part of the decision making process on them.

The issues at ALLCC date back to 2014/15, and the council has stressed that new officers and internal auditors have been appointed since then.

The report states that the payment to the secretary was a council error and that she had “reasonable grounds” to believe she was entitled to it.

Audit Wales said: “Our report in the public interest found unlawful payments were made and serious governance failings and deficiencies at the council.

“These failings included not properly scrutinising payments to its former clerk and failing to ensure they had proper arrangements in place to secure value for money when purchasing goods and services.”

Auditor General, Adrian Crompton said: “Inadequate financial management and governance has led to the exploitation of council failings for personal gain by certain individuals and significant loss of public money.

“These reports show just how important it is to have proper systems, controls and scrutiny in place in order to protect the public purse.”

In the report Audit Wales recommends that ALLCC should consider recovering the money.

It is also expected that the council holds a public meeting to discuss the report’s findings.

Current council clerk, David Cartwright said: “As Audit Wales’s executive director states at the start of her report: ‘The matters set out in this report occurred several years ago…and I am satisfied that, since then, the council has made considerable efforts to improve its governance and financial management arrangements.’

“The council has since appointed new officers and different internal auditors.

“Virtually all of the members of the council who were involved during 2014-15 are no longer community councillors.

“A special meeting of the council will be held within the next month to consider whether to seek recovery of the unlawful over-payments referred to in the report.”

The other two councils issued with one of these reports, that focusses on financial issues, were Ynysawdre and Llangynwyd Middle which are both in the Bridgend County Borough Council area.