SNP appoints new auditors as deadline looms

time:2023-06-03 01:59:12source:BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation) author:Press center8

The SNP has signed a contract with a new auditor more than six months after the previous firm quit.

The SNP's Westminster group risks losing £1.2m of public funding if it does not submit audited accounts by 31 May.

Group leader Stephen Flynn said he was now confident that the deadline would be met.

The party must also file its audited accounts with the Electoral Commission in July.

Humza Yousaf, the SNP's leader and Scotland's first minister, said Manchester-based AMS Accountants Group had agreed to complete the accounts for both the party and its Westminster group.

Mr Yousaf said: "There is hard work ahead but it is really encouraging to have them on board as we work towards challenging deadline".

It emerged last month that the SNP's previous auditors, Johnston Carmichael, had quit last September.

Mr Yousaf has said he only found out after winning the contest to succeed Nicola Sturgeon in March that the party no longer had an accounting firm in place.

A source told the BBC that Mr Yousaf, Mr Flynn and their teams had "put in some shift to fix the situation they inherited".

The source added: "They have managed to turn things around in a matter of weeks and both the party and the Westminster group now have auditors in place."

Mr Flynn previously told the BBC that the party was having problems finding new auditors and that he could not guarantee it would be able to meet the 31 May deadline.

He also said the SNP was likely to lose £1.2m of Short Money if it was not able to file its accounts by that date.

Short Money is given to opposition parties to help them carry out their parliamentary work, and is based on how many MPs they have.

However, Mr Flynn said on Wednesday that he was "confident we'll meet the deadline, as in previous years".

Mr Flynn was recently accused by his predecessor, Ian Blackford, of giving "false assurances" that a new auditor had been found - a claim that he dismissed.

Johnston Carmichael, which had worked with the party for more than a decade, said the decision to stop auditing the SNP's accounts was taken after a review of its clients.

It comes amid an ongoing police investigation into the party's finances that saw Nicola Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell - who was until recently the SNP's chief executive - and former treasurer Colin Beattie being arrested last month.

Both men were released without charge pending further investigation.

Detectives also spent two days searching Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell's home in Glasgow, and the SNP's headquarters in Edinburgh as part of the inquiry.

And a luxury motorhome which can sell for more than £100,000 was seized from outside the home of Mr Murrell's 92-year-old mother in Dunfermline, where it was said to have sat for more than two years.

There was a lingering note of caution from Humza Yousaf when he talked about the "challenging" deadlines facing his new auditors.

But the first minister will hope this is one less thing on his plate to worry about.

He would far rather be focusing on bread and butter issues of government, like the anti-poverty summit he convened this morning.

But there are still plenty of party matters cluttering his in-tray, and the opposition are only too keen to capitalise on them - as evidenced by the Holyrood debate this afternoon on "the transparency of Scotland's governing party".

Mr Yousaf's only option is to work through the items which he least has some control over. He has appointed new auditors, and launched an internal review of how his party is run.

What may be of more concern are the issues which are out of his hands entirely - like the big unknown of the police investigation which continues to loom over the SNP.

Police Scotland launched its Operation Branchform investigation in July 2021 after receiving complaints about how more than £600,000 of donations from activists for a future independence referendum campaign were spent.

Questions were raised after accounts showed the SNP had just under £97,000 in the bank at the end of 2019, and total net assets of about £272,000.

It also emerged that Mr Murrell had given the party a loan of more than £100,000 in June 2021 to help it out with a "cash flow" issue after the previous month's Scottish Parliament election.

About half of the loan had been repaid within a few months, but Mr Yousaf has said the party still owes money to Mr Murrell - although he has not yet said how much.

The Scottish Conservatives are to push on Wednesday afternoon for the government to make a formal statement on the chaos that has engulfed the SNP since Ms Sturgeon stepped down as party leader and first minister.

Speaking ahead of a Holyrood debate on the issue, Tory leader Douglas Ross said the SNP's time in government had been characterised by "unacceptable secrecy" on a range of issues.

And he claimed that the country's "real priorities" were being ignored by Mr Yousaf and his government because they are "distracted by the meltdown in the party".

A similar call was previously rejected by the first minister, who said: "I don't think parliament is the place to do a statement on the party's finances."

This latest attempt by the Conservatives is also likely to fail, with the SNP and their Scottish Green partners in government holding a majority of seats in the parliament.

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