Cambridgeshire County Council says it has resolved issues after report showed errors in electric bills for street lighting

Lynn Road, Wisbech, during installation of new street lights

Lynn Road, Wisbech, during installation of new street lights - Credit: Archant

All of the issues thrown up by an audit of the street lighting contract run by Balfour Beatty which showed Cambridgeshire County Council “will not be paying the correct amount for its electricity” have been resolved, say a new report.

The council’s audit committee will discuss on Tuesday the internal report which showed that for a time the county did “not appear to have oversight of the billing process”.

The report blamed lack of control for the fact that monthly bills paid to Southern Electric may have been inaccurate.

However each of the findings of the internal audit, which was conducted in July, have been dealt with, the committee will be told. The internal audit had only provided “limited” assurance the street lighting service was meeting its objectives.

Balfour Beatty run the county’s street lighting programme under a PFI contract but this does cover the actual supply of electricity which is paid directly to Southern Electric. Last year, for instance, the bill was approximately £1.9million.

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The report said the inventory of street lighting furniture includes lights owned by Fenland District Council and a number of parish councils. The county council pays Southern Electric for this lighting, recharges the costs to Fenland and the parish councils, for a five per cent administration fee.

The audit found Southern Electric bills were not being reconciled to estimates provided by Power Data Associates, the council’s meter administrators, and electricity rates were not being checked before bills were paid.

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Significant issues were thrown up over billing some parish councils for street lighting electricity.

They also found the county council had paid “significant amounts” of money in advance to Southern Electric for lighting furniture belonging to parish councils even though a number of these councils had already paid for their electricity directly or to Fenland District Council.

“The service feels that the council are unlikely to recoup this cost, as the council itself provided the erroneous inventory on which the charges for these lights were based,” says the report.

As much as £44,000 for last year could have been overpaid although “no attempt has been made to approach Southern Electric to try to recoup these charges”. Separately the council may owe Southern Electric £10,000 on another issue.

But the council officers insists a member of staff has now been trained in submitting the monthly inventory and procedures put in place to ensure the county council is not “over or under charging” parish and district councils.

Councillors will be told “a substantial amount” has been done to iron out all the anomalies in the billing process.

And the issues with Fenland Council were worked through when Balfour Beatty visited to ensure no double billing could occur in the future.

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