AUDITORS are still investigating claims that the council made an unlawful payment to a charity one year after the matter was raised by an ex-volunteer.

Lancashire Wildlife Trust received £29,359 from Bolton Council for the Kingfisher Trail project through the Community Empowerment Fund.

But a former volunteer formally objected to the grant payment using powers afforded to all electors under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

It was claimed that the trust had already received tens of thousands of pounds in grants from other sources for an identical project with the same outcomes – but the charity denies this.

Karen Murray - partner at auditors Mazers - told the audit committee last week that the firm is still looking into the sole objection it received to the 2018/19 accounts, which she described as a “relatively small” amount of money that was paid as a grant to a voluntary third-party organisation which the council works with.

She said: “We had done a considerable amount of work on it and I was optimistic that we would have been able to report back by now. But unfortunately, all of the information supplied to us by the objector was in hard copy and in the middle of March we had to lockdown our offices.

“Until last week, we weren’t able to access the office in any capacity at all which would give us an opportunity to collect those papers and deal with them.

“We will collect those papers from the office in the next week or two and we will conclude the work we need to do.”

The next steps in the process of investigating an objection to an item in the accounts were explained to the audit committee at a meeting last Wednesday.

Mazars will make a judgement on the objection after the elector and the council have been given an opportunity to submit any final pieces of evidence.

At that point, the auditors are required to share their decision with Public Sector Audit Appointments so that they can consider it from a legal perspective after which Mazars will issue a final statement of reasons.

Mazars must also consider making a declaration to the court if the payment on the account is found to be unlawful.