Report highlights: Local Government 2021

What the report is about

Results of the local government sector council financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2021.

What we found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued for 126 councils, 13 joint organisation audits and nine county councils in 2020–21. 

A qualified audit opinion was issued for Central Coast Council who was unable to provide evidence to support the carrying value of $5.5 billion of roads, bridges, footpaths, bulk earthworks, stormwater drainage, water supply and sewerage network assets.

The audit of Kiama Municipal Council is still in progress as at the date of this report due to significant accounting issues not resolved resulting in corrections to the financial statements and prior period errors.

Forty-one councils and joint organisations (2020: 16) received extensions to submit audited financial statements to the Office of Local Government (OLG). 

Councils were impacted by recent emergency events, including bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic. The financial implications from these events varied across councils. Councils adapted systems, processes and controls to enable staff to work flexibly.

What the key issues were

There were 1,277 audit findings reported to councils in audit management letters.

Ninety-two high risk matters were identified across the sector:

  • 69 high risk matters relating to asset management (see page 30)
  • six high risk matters relating to information technology (see page 39)
  • six high risk matters relating to financial reporting (see page 26)
  • six high risk matters to council governance procedures (see page 22)
  • five high risk matters relating to financial accounting (see page 28).

More needs to be done to reduce the number of errors identified in financial reports. Twenty nine councils required material adjustments to correct errors in previous audited financial statements.

Rural firefighting equipment

Sixty-eight councils did not record rural firefighting equipment estimated to be $145 million in their financial statements.

The financial statements of the NSW Total State Sector and the NSW Rural Fire Service do not include these assets, as the State is of the view that rural firefighting equipment that has been vested to councils under the Rural Fires Act 1997 is not controlled by the State. In reaching this conclusion, the State argued that on balance it would appear the councils control rural firefighting equipment that has been vested to them.

The continued non-recording of rural firefighting equipment in financial management systems of some councils increases the risk that these assets are not properly maintained and managed.

What we recommended

Councils should perform a full asset stocktake of rural firefighting equipment, including a condition assessment for 30 June 2022 financial reporting purposes and recognise this equipment as assets in their financial statements. 

Consistent with OLG’s role to assess council’s compliance with legislative responsibilities, standards or guidelines, OLG should intervene where councils do not recognise rural firefighting equipment.

Fast facts

  • 150 councils and joint organisations in the sector
  • 99% unqualified audit opinions issued for the 30 June 2021 financial statements
  • 489 monetary misstatements reported in 2020–21
  • 54 prior period errors reported
  • 92 high-risk management letter findings identified
  • 53% of reported issues were repeat issues.

Early financial reporting procedures

Fifty nine per cent of councils performed some early financial reporting procedures, less than the prior year.

What we recommended

OLG should require early financial reporting procedures across the local government sector by April 2023. Policy requirements should be discussed with key stakeholders to ensure benefits of the procedures are realised.

Asset valuations

Audit management letters reported 288 findings relating to asset management. Fifty eight councils had deficiencies in their processes to revalue infrastructure assets.

Thirty five councils corrected errors relating to revaluations amounting to $1 billion and 13 councils had prior period errors relating to asset revaluations that amounted to $253 million.

What we recommended

Councils should have all asset revaluations completed by April of the financial year subject to audit.

Integrity/completeness of asset records

Sixty seven councils had weak processes over maintenance, completeness and security of fixed asset registers.

Thirty five councils corrected errors to the financial statements relating to poor record keeping of asset data that amounted to $102.1 million. Nineteen councils had 27 prior period financial statement errors that amounted to $417.1 million relating to the quality of asset records such as found and duplicate assets.

What we recommended

Councils need to improve controls and processes to ensure integrity and completeness of asset source records.


Our audits found that cybersecurity frameworks and related controls were not in place at 65 councils.

These councils have yet to implement basic governance and internal controls to manage cybersecurity such as having a cybersecurity framework, policy and procedure, register of cyber incidents, system penetrations testing and training.

What we recommended

OLG needs to develop a cybersecurity policy to be applied by councils as a matter of high priority in order to ensure cybersecurity risks over key data and IT assets are appropriately managed across councils and key data is safeguarded.

Councils should monitor the implementation of recommendations

Fifty three per cent of total findings reported in 2020–21 audit management letters were repeat or partial repeat findings from prior years.

What we recommended

Councils and those charged with governance should track the progress of implementing recommendations from financial audits, performance audits and public inquiries.

Key financial information

In 2020-21, councils:

  • collected $7.6b in rates and annual charges
  • received $5.1b in grants and contributions
  • incurred $4.8b of employee benefits and on costs
  • held $15.3b of cash and investments
  • managed $161.7b of infrastructure, property, plant and equipment
  • entered into $3.4b of borrowings 

Further information

Please contact Ian Goodwin, Deputy Auditor-General on 9275 7347 or by email.