Councillors have called for further scrutiny of purchases made by workers on the authority’s credit cards issued to almost 400 employees.

The internal audit found that some cardholders were unaware of rules and others didn’t know how much they had spent in a month.

But councillors on the North Ayrshire authority’s audit and scrutiny committee heard last week that only four staff cardholders responded to the audit out of 10 selected.

Councillor Tom Marshall called for more information, saying: “I’m quite surprised at the numbers, almost 400 cardholders, there was an audit done on 10 and only four responded, so we’re getting four out of 400, so we’re looking at one per cent.

“Some of the things that are coming out are quite amazing, that three of these four cardholders did not know the single monthly transactions and there’s a whole lot of issues there.

“It seems to me – we really must tighten up on this and ensure that people, before they get using the cards, get some training and get to know what they can spend it on, the areas of their responsibility, get to know what their limits are and realise all of this is public money.”

The test sample of holders of the Royal Bank of Scotland issued cards was reviewed between 2018 and March 2021.

Online training is provided for both card users and those who carry out authorisations, but documents reveal from 2016, 153 people have undergone the approval course, with a further 47 completing the cardholder training.

Figures reveal purchase data “indicated deliveries from all over the world”, highlighting “the fact that when purchasing online, there is often no indication of the origin of the items being purchased”.

Amazon buys also increased by 8,000 transactions between 2019 and this year – with a total value of £516,007.

Guidelines also rule out making transactions through payment intermediaries such as Paypal, but despite the regulations, data shows transactions of £14k each year since 2018 through the service.

A total of 52 transactions worth £14,666 had been made via Paypal during the first four months of this year.

Documents prepared for the committee also reveal that procurement card spend averaged £5.5 million for 2018/19 and 2019/20 but dropped by £1 million during the pandemic.

In the last financial year, 7,693 transactions resulted in cash withdrawals totalling £504,241 from bank machines.

The internal audit found that: “Overall, limited assurance was obtained with regard to controls around procurement cards” but also noted: “No fraud was found during audit testing” but detailed a need for tighter controls to ensure compliance with protocol.

Finance head of service, Mark Boyd, told the committee: “I think it’s recognised that the p cards do offer a very flexible purchase route for low level spending and it is something that’s welcomed, but with that comes a requirement for procedures and controls.

“I would only add that within the action plan, you will see that training is part of that and that ongoing training in terms of making sure that approved p card users are completely clear with regards to their responsibilities.”

He added that there is “room for improvement”, through analysis and training.

Kilwinning councillor, Donald Reid, backed Councillor Marshall’s comments, adding: “I share Tom’s concerns that it’s not actually appropriate sampling”.

Councillors accepted the auditor’s report, but ordered a further report on use of the cards to come back before the committee before the end of the administration – covering a larger sample of card users.