Councillors have raised concerns after an audit report revealed “extraordinary” weaknesses in inspections of gambling premises in Barnet.

The “high risk” Barnet Council audit finding revealed inspections of premises are not carried out before licences are granted – and when they are carried out at a later date, they are not documented. The findings also apply to other venues applying for licences to sell alcohol and play music.

Also noted as a “high risk” finding under licensing and gambling was the discovery that 64 clients’ invoices were cancelled but then reissued over subsequent years and credited, which the report said had “inflated the value of expected income and means inaccurate information about licences is held in the database”.

Under “medium risk” findings, the report reveals information on licences is not routinely updated or checked for accuracy, there are 19 cases of absent debtors and three cases of missing payments, and there are delays in actions to recover invoices – an issue that was previously raised in a 2019/20 audit. In addition, the gambling licensing procedure is “not currently formally documented”.

The report was presented to a meeting of the council’s audit committee on Thursday. The council’s regulatory services team is outsourced to Capita under the Regional Enterprise (RE) contract, which is due to end next year, but there was no representative from the relevant RE team present at the meeting.

Under questioning from the committee last week, Clair Green, the council’s executive director of assurance, said the contract was being monitored but acknowledged that some of the actions identified in a previous audit should have begun to be followed up.

Richard Harbord, an independent member of the committee, said there seemed to have been “instances where invoices of payments breached financial regulations”. He asked what action was taken when there was a “clear breach of financial regulations”.

Clair said the audit had been completed in July and she needed to discuss the issues with the finance team. When Richard replied that he was “surprised” the issues had not been picked up at the closing of accounts in previous years, Clair said she did not think the accounts had been closed.

Conservative committee member Rohit Grover commented: “What we have here is a high-risk finding that inspections of these premises did not take place before licences were actually granted. Given the nature of the premises that we are talking about – gambling, pubs; adult venues, presumably – that just seems to be extraordinary.”

Clair said she agreed, although she added that inspections and enforcement actions are carried out “reactively” in response to complaints or service requests. She said: “The number of applications that are received in relation to licences being issued kind of outweighs the resources in the team to do those pre-licence inspections.”

Geraldine Chadwick, another independent committee member, asked if someone from the RE service should be present to answer questions. In response, Clair said that had been the procedure in the past, but this time the service had declined to attend. She said there was no “contractual obligation” for a representative to attend, although it was “good customer practice”.

Councillors also raised concerns over an audit of fire safety inspections of private residential blocks that are being undertaken to ensure they comply with fire safety regulations put in place following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

The report reveals there has been “insufficient progress in managing fire safety risks in private sector housing”, with five sites that have still not been inspected by RE. In addition, a “tracker” used to oversee private sector tower blocks in the borough is described in the report as “missing key information”.

The report indicates the team within RE did not have enough resources to undertake “all the key activities in relation to managing fire safety risks in private sector housing that are required”.

Five actions were identified to address the issues raised in the report, with two of these now completed and the remaining three in progress.

Under questioning from committee members, Caroline Glitre, the council’s head of independent audit, said progress had been “slower than it should have been”. She said she sympathised with the resourcing issues and added that she thought the “contractual mechanism” had slowed things down.