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Several hundred pounds in petty cash goes AWOL at Highland Council

By Scott Maclennan

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Several hundred pounds of petty cash at Highland Council has been “lost or misappropriated” at some point between Christmas Eve last year and the start of February this year, it has emerged.

The audit and scrutiny committee will be told later this week that the £300 in cash went missing at an unidentified facility after bosses failed to lock-up the cash, which was intended for use to cover emergencies over the festive period.

At least eight people knew that cash had been put in an envelope and then left under three drawers in a manager’s office, which was unlocked after an email was sent to the manager and six health and social care staff telling them where it was left.

That “informal arrangement” was, according to the report, “not in accordance with any council policy or procedure” and there was no “proper documented handover of the emergency money.”

And at least six individuals who do not normally have uncontrolled access to cash were made aware of the money but it took until February 1 for bosses to realise that it was missing despite staff returning around January 6.

The incident was revealed by a business support operations manager who contacted the internal audit team to say that £300 from the petty cash at a facility was missing but that: “It is uncertain if this money has been lost or misappropriated.”

This report outlines the situation and the “control weaknesses” that have been found at the facility including a lag after the facility reopened when the cash should have been checked.

However, it is known that staff did not go to the building over the festive period and have had limited access to it since March 2020 due to the Covid pandemic as this part of the council’s guidance is vague.

There was a considerable time period between setting aside the money and determining that it was missing. During this entire period a large number of staff have had access to the facility and the emergency money’s exact whereabouts have not been determined.

Based on the evidence obtained it has not been determined whether the money has been lost or stolen. Financial Regulations have not been complied with.

An informal arrangement was entered into by several staff which is considered risky and imprudent.

This investigation has also identified concerns over access to the facility whereby former members of staffs’ access has not been removed.

As a result of the findings from this investigation and the weaknesses identified, the audit opinion of limited assurance has been given.

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