Sunday, 26 July 2009

IS TDC GETTING TO GRIPS WITH ODD FINANCIAL GOINGS ON AT RAMSGATE HARBOUR?



Is there a bigger financial bad-smell emanating from the TDC run Ramsgate Harbour than from the gunge floating in the harbour?
(My thanks to ECR for the pic above and to Michael Child for the pic below.)
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I love Auditors. When they are unhappy with something they couch their language carefully and talk about 'levels of assurance'. For the average Thanetonian, a Limited Assurance rating, is probably interpreted as room for fiddling, graft and corruption, let alone that much repeated cry of 'brown envelopes'. A 'nil Assurance' rating presumably means we haven't got a clue if the tax-payer is being ripped off!
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The picture below shows the main uses of Ramsgate Harbour; the commercial port (Trans Europa Ferry Service and now Wind Farm support); and The Royal Harbour with the marina packed with expensive private boats and Ramsgate's fishing boats. The Business Objective for TDC is ' To ensure that the main services at The Marina are administered effectively and are cost efficient and provide a strong income stream to the Council.
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Despite what looks like a thriving set-up, Ramsgate Harbour cost us all £750,000 last year!
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Now I do not know enough of the details as to why Ramsgate Harbour made such a loss but perhaps the East Kent Audit Partnership report in the last quarter of 2008 might start to give an inkling. For those with time on your hands go and look at this link:

http://tdc-mg-dmz.thanet.gov.uk/Data/Governance%20and%20Audit%20Committee/20081209/Agenda/$Agenda%20Enclosure%205.doc.pdf

I have tried to precis the scandalous findings of EKAP and they are as follows:
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1. There has been lax charging or no charging for electricity and water supplied to rented properties at The Harbour. (In simple terms, TDC Council payers have been paying other businesses electricity and water bills for years! How much has this cost us?)
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2. Rents were not being reviewed and not being paid up to date.
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3. One lock-up had a TDC Cllr's car in it with no contract or charges being levied.
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4. A Port 'let' had no lease agreement or licence entered into or even a simple written agreement that led to a £10,000 debt. ( This probably cannot be enforced as a result!)
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5. 350 litres of gas oil has disappeared and not been investigated by anyone.
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6. Contrary to TDC's Contract Procedure rules, £138,000 was spent with a single gas oil supplier without market testing (i.e finding the cheapest supplier) when during the same period the Port purchased oil from another supplier at a cheaper rate.
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7. TransEuropa Ferries contract expired in Dec 2006! They are still paying charges (at the 2006 rates?). There appears to be a debt history with Trans Europa with the oldest debt being £73,000. (So what is the total debt owed by Trans Europa?)
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8. The technical dept at the Port is reported as having a distinct lack of awareness of TDC's purchasing rules. ( Considering the steps TDC has taken for a number of years to train staff about compliance with CPRs, this is amazing. Is it perhaps 'Audit speak' for ignoring the rules completely?)
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9. Electrical work and maintenance was carried out by Holbrook and Revell Electrical Ltd (HRE Ltd) for years without a CPR contract tender until presumably Audit stepped in, in Sep 2008 and it would now appear to have a 4 year contract.
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10. No checking or certifying of work invoiced to the Port by HRE Ltd , that was either emergency or planned work, ocurred. In other words, no checking if the work had been completed took place as invoices were presented and just paid.
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11. The Port seemed happy to pay general labouring rates of £19.50 per hour for jobs like cleaning leaves from gutters or sweeping up bird droppings. ( Are there that many trees in the Harbour?). This was done without seeking competitive quotes from other general labour suppliers. ( Audit speak for giving the work at inflated rates to mates?)
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12. Aggregating contracts to bypass TDC Contract Procedure Rule (CPR) Compliance. This was not only a problem at The Port but the EKAP report lists upto 30% of all TDC contracts might fail to comply with its own CPRs. (This will be looked at in another posting shortly).
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CPRs perhaps need explaining. Basically, any contract payment can be made below £10,000 by a TDC Officer without reference to Cabinet. So if you make 3 payments of £9, 999 for what is essentially one contract, you can handle £29, 997 of business without reference to Cabinet at the officer level and avoid tendering etc! CPR's are thus designed to stop unfair contracts and prevent in simple terms, bribery and corruption. Wilfully ignoring CPRs should be an instant dismissal offence, such is the potential for corruption. The Port spent £134,000 for one service alone by aggregating in this way. How many others were aggregated?
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The present Conservative Administration of TDC has been in charge of Ramsgate Harbour since 2003, with the Deputy Leader having responsibility for Ramsgate Harbour until May this year when Cllr Kirby took over responsibility. Whilst I am informed that the 'cess-pit' of maladministration at Ramsgate Harbour is being sorted by TDC, 6 years into the present regime, it strikes me that Cllr Latchford needs to shoulder some responsibility here, and perhaps his resignation from the Cabinet might be in order? I am more worried by this catalogue of inept management of our Royal Harbour than I am by his hilarious 'leaping salmon' antics in The Edinburgh Woollen Mill last summer. There is a time when all 'old warriors' need to enter retirement gracefully and perhaps that time has passed.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beggers belief. "of the sample of 20 purchase orders in excess of £10,000 only 9 orders (45% of the sample) had actually been exposed to market competition."
Cosy little jobs for the boys?

Anonymous said...

I await reading Simon Moores' posting where he says, yet again, 'this is a non-story' as he tried to tell Eastcliff Richard when he put up a bit of this report.

'Non-story'? Clearly not and clearly as a council taxpayer, I want answers to the points raised.

Anonymous said...

Good grief. It's a free-for-all.

Anonymous said...

How many of the contracts awarded by TDC were just under the £10k limit so didn't need to be ratified? Perhaps some were neatly divided into little parcels of £9999 so slipped through without needing to be signed off at a higher level?

Another 'non-story'?

Tony Beachcomber said...

Bertie,

Well done for a very factual piece of investigation, it is like a rerun of the pontoons scandal that plagued the 1991 TDC Conservative administration.
As for the "closed shop", I thought those days were dead and buried.Which I am sure other readers will comment about.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the normal services mooring water stevadores and a levy for traffic passing through the port. Do the ferries pay realistic dues for berthing if anything at all. With all the comings and going of all types of craft it is beyond belief that such a deficit has arose If all the revenue was solely kept by the harbour surely it should make a profit bearing in mind the little maintainance that is done around the port it is almost a certainty. It is time to stop the flow of income going to the other side of the island.

Bertie Biggles said...

Thanks for kind words, Tony. The information is there to be found in TDC's reports etc but seeing how much Cllrs have to read each week, I suspect not many have the time to follow everything.

20.16,the problem seems to be that no money is being made but rather a loss!

Anonymous said...

Your loss figure includes write downs on capital etc. At an operational level I think you'll find it makes a profit and contributes to TDC coffers.

I agree it would be much better if it were taken off TDC's hands and run as a commercial operation though. Some of the practices which have grown up since it's been in the public sector would not be tolerated in a commercial environment.

Bertie Biggles said...

Thanks for that 14:05.Do you know its operating profit?

Anonymous said...

Still no response from Councillor Moores saying this is a non-story, I assume?

Bertie Biggles said...

There appears to be a degree of embarrassed silence from the Anon bloggers at TDC HQ also, and I am not surprised 18.14, after all its blistering comment from their own Internal Audit team!

I have been e-mailed by a source who suggests that I may have been a little harsh on Cllr Latchford as the problems seem on-going and more connected with the appalling incompetence of some-one closer to the harbour. If that is the case, it might be long overdue to have that phrase used by Sir Alan,
"Your'e Fired!"

Anonymous said...

Word has it that Simon got his wrists slapped for getting publicly involved in the Nottingham versus Worrow spat, so he's now keeping a low profile. Wonder if he's still as supportive of silencing councillors blogs?

Bertie Biggles said...

An interesting snippet,09.08.

Thanet Life, was a ground breaking blog in Thanet and Dr Moores has alaways maintained an acceptable use policy and urged that other blogs do like-wise. I tend to agree with his view-point although I have sometimes failed to maintain such high standards myself.

I do not think that a blogging protocol for TDC Councillor's is necessary as the Standards that Cllrs are required to adhere to is applicable to Cllr run Blogs. There is a thin line between allowing freedom of speech and 'censorship' and moderation in every sense is called for.

DrM. said...

I find that "Rumour has it" normally means that the person writing the post has made-up some outrageous claim and is now floating it to attract comment.

"Wrists slapped".. what utter b****s!

Also, I sat on the same governance and audit committee that received this report and questioned officers and councillors as a consequence, so there's no embarrased silence I'm aware of. Quite the contrary, there's been a proactive effort to address the many issues and concerns surrounding the management of the port, which was reflected in the same report.

Furthermore, I didn't write that the report was a "non-story", rather it was one exaggerated facet on ECR's weblog,involving a 'lock-up' which came under the heading of an irregularity rather than anything more sinister!

Finally, there is no campaign to silence councillors blogs. Chief Exective Richard Samuel has taken the trouble to write a letter which is found on Tony Flaig's 'Big News Margate'. He explains very clearly that councillors are bound by rules of behaviour both on and off-line and that's all this conversation surrounding a protocol has been about!