MEASURES to mitigate the risks of Clackmannanshire Council being defrauded should be implemented as a “matter of urgency” according to independent experts.

External auditors from the Accounts Commission were at the council’s Kilncraigs chamber last Thursday, April 25, to report on issues identified regarding financial systems and controls at the local authority.

One potential problem singled out related to the checks that staff must carry out to make sure requests to change a supplier’s banking details are genuine.

This relates to scenarios where the local authority already has a contract agreed with an external party.

The Accounts Commission report tabled on the day said: “Our 2018-19 interim testing found that for 11 of the 20 cases we sample tested, the council had not recorded evidence of supplier verification on file.

“In four of the 11 cases, supplier bank details had been changed without verifying that the requests to change were authentic.”

In the chamber, they did add that “this was not to say it [checks] didn’t happen, but there was no evidence of it”.

Indeed, council staff present said they agreed the points raised and are implementing actions going forward.

There was reassurance given to the chamber that details were verified on each occasion, but that was not necessarily recorded and filed every time.

One officer added: “We do take it very seriously.

“We’ll review policies and procedures to minimise that risk.”

The experts highlighted cases of fraud can occur, and have happened in the past at other organisations, partly due to details on public contracts being easily accessible online.

One external auditor said: “Police Scotland highlighted this was a risk due to the high number of transactions.

“A number of organisations have lost money to this.”

Recently elected SNP Councillor Jane McTaggart also linked the issue in a wider sense with a report from the week before on the council’s future digital strategy, which will take an online first approach where possible.

She questioned whether expanding digital services would increase the risks, something highlighted by independent Cllr Chris Dixon who comes from an IT security background, and received conformation it was indeed the case.

A senior officer added they will be adhering to the national standards set out by the Scottish Government with a focus on digital resilience, adding that they are considering a partnership with Falkirk counterparts to increase IT capacity.

Vigilance among staff, something that was later a key phrase when the chamber debated building security, will also be an important factor, they added.

In proposing the paper, SNP Cllr Helen Lewis said the potential for fraud was “quite worrying” and added: “When you see it in black and white it becomes so very real.”