TOWN hall bosses have been let off the hook by a 'watered-down' report into the awarding of a £300,000 grant to a law firm, according to opposition leaders.

An investigation carried out by auditors KPMG, which was made public yesterday, concluded that Bolton Council's decision to give the controversial grant to Asons Solicitors was legal and appropriate.

But while the report does criticise the council's use of its emergency powers procedure, Cllr David Greenhalgh says that residents 'have every right to feel let down' by the audit.

The Conservative leader said: "Although critical, I have to say, for the amount of work done and time taken to complete this review, the end report is, in my view, a general, somewhat non-committal watered-down version of what I expected from KPMG.

"Speaking as the chair of the audit committee, when the council ordered an external independent review of the Asons decision by the council external auditors, I expected it to be a thorough, detailed piece of in-depth work, with references to the vast amount of documentation they have asked for from the council. Instead, all we have before us, is a few paragraphs hidden away in the Annual External Audit Report 2016/17.

"Once again, regarding the Asons saga, the people of this town have every right to feel let down.

"They deserved to get answers, and individuals should have been held to account by this report, not let off the hook, with an overall disappointing report that seeks to play safe and not upset the council."

After looking at a number of the council's grant decisions, KPMG concluded that the issues relating to Asons were 'isolated' and praised the council for recovering the grant once the law firm ceased trading in March.

Cllr Greenhalgh added: "Whatever spin anyone wishes to put on this, no-one can hide from the fact that £300,000 of public money was awarded to a company by one man behind closed doors, and that the money was handed over before any meeting of this council was held to approve it.

"Whatever your political persuasion, this is plain wrong, and an abuse of power.

"I am pleased the report acknowledges the flawed process, and is damning about the council leader's use of emergency powers, stating there is 'no clear rationale', 'no clear audit trail', and 'no evidence of opposition members being informed'.

"The report also draws attention to internal issues regarding the council's effectiveness at monitoring arrangements to ensure the grant was used as intended and what due diligence was done on the grant recipient.

"KPMG also states that as the money has been recovered and therefore no financial loss to the public, there is no need to exercise their wider powers. I completely disagree.

"The fact that Asons ceased trading and the money was retrieved, does not alter the fact this Council's process allowed the award of this grant, public money exchanged hands, and KPMG should have exercised all their wider powers to expose the truth behind the decision."

The town's other opposition leaders have also criticised the report.

Cllr Sean Hornby, Bolton UKIP leader, said: "As we the opposition had been saying from day one and as the report identifies, due diligence was not done on the awarding of the grant to Asons and monitoring arrangement to ensure the grant was used as intended were not done.

"I do not accept that there has been no financial loss to the public, as despite the money being paid back, there is the cost of officer time, public meetings, and the cost of KPMG doing the investigation and preparing the report on the Asons Saga. I want to know what that cost was.

"While accepting that the report says the the issues in relation to the Asons grant are isolated, I hope that this is the case and those words do not come back to haunt this council.

"All opposition parties should be informed of these decisions and had it not been for all three opposition parties working collectively together the truth may never have been found."

He added that he was 'appalled' that an advance copy of the report was not sent to councillors before it was made public.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Andrew Martin said: “This report is highly critical of the decision to award money using the emergency powers procedure, without a proper audit trail and without consulting opposition members.

"Bolton Labour have repeatedly refused to acknowledge that the use of emergency powers was wrong and they should apologise to the people of Bolton.

"To avoid mistakes like this in the future, Bolton Labour need to stop taking decisions behind closed doors and allow the public and opposition members to properly scrutinise council decisions.”

The KPMG report will be discussed at a meeting of the council's audit committee next Tuesday.