Tuesday, 4 August 2009


I have looked at Audit matters for some time now and so far we have had the following:
1. TDC's inept management of Ramsgate Harbour through Maritime Services.
2. Contract Procedure Rules (CPRs) being blatantly ignored by TDC Officers.
3. The recent farce and waste of tax payers money concerning TDC's Vehicle Insurance. (vehicles insured when not held and a vehicle held but not insured!)
The next issue I would like to look at is a 'cover-up' within TDC concerning problems with its Housing Repairs & Maintenance arrangements which involves Mears Group and the 'partnership' that requires the spending of over £1,000,000 per year. The Mears Group has had amazing growth in the past 12 years under Bob Holt and has recently announced a £290 million contract for 10 years with Brighton & Hove Council. To see more about Mears, visit:
The story behind what went wrong in Housing Repairs & Maintenance is obscure because of a veil of secrecy drawn over it by TDC. I have had to glean snippets from TDC's own documents to realise that something serious was brought to light.
It would seem that TDC's audit team, East Kent Audit Partnership (EKAP) reported to Governance & Audit Committee on 27 Sep 2007 that Housing Repairs & Maintenance had a 'reasonable level of assurance'. However on 12 Dec 2007 , EKAP reported to Committtee its 'special investigation' into Housing Repairs & maintenance would need 18 days and not the agreed 10 days. What special investigation?
We now move to Governance & Audit Committee of 25 Mar 2008. Here EKAP show they have now spent 20 days not 18 on a 'Repairs Special Investigation'. There is no mention about what is going on but this snippet:
'Councillor Peppiatt raised his concern that there was no mention of contractors such as Mears not performing; Nikki Morris confirmed that this issue was contained in theme 4.'
At this stage the veil of secrecy and confusion descends! There is a Committtee Meeting shown as taking place on SUNDAY 8th June 2008 with an agenda for 26th June 2008 and for some reason the EKAP quarterly report is not attached or accessible! Then we find out that a 'Special Meeting' of The Governance & Audit Committtee was held on 11th March 2008 that was not even shown on TDC's website as having happened!
In the Agenda for 26 June 2008, this item is shown with an exclusion notice of public and press:
'To approve the confidential minutes of the Special Governance and Audit Committee meeting held on 11 March 2008, copy attached for members of the committee.'
The minutes of 26 June 2008 also reveal this:
'Councillor Green had concerns that Mears had their contract renewed for a year and the amount of time needed to make alternative arrangements. Sue McGonigal explained that the problem had been dealt with so it was not detrimental to the Council, and that the contract extension was a necessary interim measure.'
You will need to grasp at this stage, that by June 2008, we have Mears being mentioned as not performing; concerns with Mears' contract being renewed; special secret meetings of The Governance & Audit Committee on 11 March 2008 and possibly on 8 June 2008 and public excluded from the meeting of 26 June 2008. What was going on?
The Agenda of the Committtee Meeting of 24 Sep 2008 starts to give an insight into what was going on regarding the contract with TDC and Mears acting in 'partnership'. Fuller details are shown at:
This is the Business Objective for Housing Repairs & Maintenance:
'To ensure that the housing stock is well maintained, providing a good level of
service to Council tenants, in partnership with the Council’s contractors and in
accordance with Council policy and procedures.'
EKAP in its report to Committtee covered its work from 1st June-31st Jul 2008 and it was still not happy with things:
'The follow-up audit review concludes that management can place no
assurance on the controls in place.'
(This is a NIL assurance rating!)
'The previous audit report regarding the alleged fraudulent activities by “Rogue
Traders” employed by the Contractor have been followed up by the EKAP to
ensure that the highlighted major key control failings ........."
'There remains however significant concern over the level of supervision by
the Council for responsive repairs.'
"Whilst some recommendations have been implemented and improvements
have been made ......... this has not prevented SOME OVERCHARGING FROM RECURRING. (my capitals). Indeed, it is disappointing to find that whilst the contractor appears to have made efforts to ensure the problems previously experienced are eliminated, the Council’s response is complacent that it will not happen again. In particular, there is a lack of vigorous follow ups, inadequate on site visual post inspections of all categories of responsive works and THE COUNCIL ARE CURRENTLY UNABLE TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE ASSURANCE THAT THE WORKS BEING CHARGED FOR HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN CARRIED OUT. (my capitals) It is therefore suggested that a further follow up of this review be undertaken in six month’s time."
"The CREDIT NOTE from Mears should be applied to the next available payment and
the correct approach regarding how this is recorded, allocated and accounted for in
the correct year...".
"It is vital to monitor the contractor; the only control that the Council has to ensure it is
not being overcharged is to physically inspect the works and compare the scheduled items listed on the ticket to the works."
Readers are now hopefully getting a picture about what went on in Housing Repairs & Maintenance! This is what TDC's Financial Services Manager told the Councillor Committee members on 24 Sep 2008:
"Sue McGonigal informed members of the Governance and Audit Committee that the housing repairs and maintenance post inspection controls were much improved. She added that the follow up audit would be done by the council and not by Mears and that the original audit cost had also been met by Mears."
So 'rogue traders'; overcharging; lack of supervision and control by TDC; repayments and audit costs being met by Mears? One can picture the situation with just a little imagination. A person was taken out of post but was there a criminal investigation and were Kent Police called in to investigate? If so, what was the outcome? Or has the whole business been covered up even more?
It seems to be a classic case of TDC not checking properly and paying out tax-payers money for jobs not done. Incompetent management by TDC looks as if it led to fraud ! How big was the loss to the tax-payer? Who has been sacked? Why was Mears' contract extended? Has anyone been held to account?
On 9 Dec 2008, The Governance & Audit Committtee had a NIL assurance still for Housing Repairs & Maintenance from EKAP despite Sue McGonigals assurances to our Cllrs in September!
At its meeting on 17th March this year, with yet another NIL assurance for Housing Repairs & Maintenance the Committtee was requested by EKAP to authorise yet more time for investigations as follows:
Housing Repairs Follow up: - 15 days.
Mears Continuing Investigation: - 7 days. The reasons cited were as follows:
' High risk due to whistle blowing, risk of fraud and low assurance of previous audit.'
The latest report by EKAP to committee , was about 6 weeks ago, on 25 June 2009. EKAP outlined that the simple measures of checking invoiced work before paying had now been implemented with other checks made and at last, Housing Repairs & Maintenance now has REASONABLE assurance! There were no details of the results of their 22 days follow-up or investigation!
Well, it's nice to know that after 18 months of Audit work by EKAP, the tax-payer can have some confidence that TDC is not wasting our money anymore on Housing Repairs & Maintenance. What I would dearly love to know is how much money does EKAP estimate was lost and for how long was this awful situation running? How much was Mear's Credit note for and was this a repayment for over-charging?
Well I hope we can look to a better future now that Canterbury Council is going to be involved. Last Friday was the closing date for tenders to be placed for a joint TDC and Canterbury Responsive reapairs contract worth £2,700,000 per year to start on 1st Jan 2010, with TDC's share being £1,100,000. In light of past experience, will Mears be considered?


Anonymous said...

This gets worse and worse.

I seem to recall a similar story involving Mears and a London borough where overcharging for works not done was finally exposed. Can't recall where this was or the outcome but perhaps someone will remember and enlighten us?

Jean said...

I know a Mears employee - he told me a few tales of 'couldn't care less' attitude towards costs and efficiency.

Anonymous said...

Offences to misconduct in public office comes to mind here.

Surely the District Audit should have informed the serious economic crimes unit regarding certain matters in these reports i.e. the Harbour and Mears?


Bertie Biggles said...

The problem D8, is has there been fraud and corruption and if so, has it been investigated or just covered up or is it just incompetence and mismanagement that is rife throughout the Council? It beggars belief that we have executive officers paid in excess of £100,000 per annum and a Maritime Services manager paid in excess of £70,000 and yet internal audit (EKAP) reveals such slack management of Tax Payers money. It is long overdue for our elected Cllrs, whatever their political persuasion, to get to grips with those employed to run TDC on their and our behalf.

Iris Johnston said...

Dear Bertie,
I note Thanet Strife continues with its excellent investigative journalism and I can confirm that I have, as Shadow Housing, spoken at length some time ago with the relevant officer on the issues surrounding the Mears contract which were partially reported to Scrutiny.

The matter was fully and frankly discussed and it seems unless the CPS see fit to pursue a case it is dificult for any council to reach the type of conclusion we would all want. It is however my understanding that those employees of Mears who were found 'wanting' were dismissed.

Best wishes, Iris

Anonymous said...

'issues surrounding the Mears contract partially reported to Scrutiny'. Isn't it what wasn't reported that TDC officers should have investigated? The committee can only examine what it's given but more rigorous checks should have been carried out to ensure the council taxpayer hasn't been 'ripped off' by any contractor.

CPS will only prosecute these cases if there's a good chance of getting a conviction, unfortunately, so some never get to court.

Anonymous said...

Once again GET A LIFE Bertie, you need to get out into the real world more. Nice to see Iris is your 'Friend'

Anonymous said...

So we live partially in Thanet then!!!!

What Planet does TDC and the Auditors live on?

What is evidently clear is "that no real forensic auditing" is taking place at TDC.


Bertie Biggles said...

15.40, what an unpleasant creature you seem to be.
This post is all about poor management at TDC concerning its £1miilion + expenditure on housing repairs and maint, that clearly involved fraud in the past audit year, and all you can come up with is 'get a life'?

So you are happy to see mis-management on a grand scale at TDC in respect of maritime services; Contract procedure rules being flouted; insurance fiascos and now tax-payers money being paid out without checking that work had been done?

Just because ONE Cllr has broken a deafening silence on the topic, and happens to be a Labour Cllr, all you can do is sneer?

You epitomise all that is wrong with TDC and Thanet. I do not give a fig about what party a Cllr represents; if something in the way TDC operates is wrong, then it is the duty of every Cllr at TDC to be concerned about it irrespective of party.

Disgusted council taxpayer said...

Anonymous 15.40. No doubt the readers of this are already speculating who you are. My money's on.....

I'm a council taxpayer and whilst many are struggling to pay their bills, keep a roof over their heads this council is allowing untold funds to be squandered on crazy projects, handed over to companies found wanting, councillors (or at least one) renting a garage for nothing....

If you are happy with that situation you are either a Tory councillor or a prospective one or a contractor with your contract nicely signed off or a developer who....

I won't go on but anyone reading this can get the picture.

Anonymous said...

If Thanet is that bad, then LEAVE. Do us all a favour. Oh and take the Irish 'Lady' with you (PLEEASE)

Bertie Biggles said...

13.38, I will leave your obnoxious comment on for all to see the type of people we have in Thanet. The issue is maladministration in our Council that is likely to have cost the tax-payer thousands. When TDC talks about lacking funds to keep toilets open, you may wish to bear this in mind.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

To the unpleasant person posting as anonymous 13.38. Why should I leave rather than stay and try to pull the area up by its bootstraps? You don't know who I am so have no idea what part I may be playing in trying to improve things here for everyone including yourself.

You are, sadly, representative of the worst in Thanet if you can turn a blind eye to what is clearly maladministration by those elected to serve the community.

Having said that, it's the attitude of people like you that has driven people and businesses away from Thanet to set up elsewhere.

I recall in the 1970s when the council was trying to attract firms to the area, their unrealistic demands of firms was met with the response that'other councils invite us to move to their area. You are simply driving us away.'

Bertie Biggles said...

01.26, I am sorry that I have had to edit your comment.

Anonymous said...
Whilst you have ************ such as Gregory and Moores in the Cabinet, what on earth do you expect Bertie!

This Council is run by a small band of Mafiosa who will do whatever is best in they're own interests.

You are wasting your time thinking that anything you say will make any difference to these people at all.

09 August 2009 01:26

First of all, although 'Our Ken' is Head of Planning Committtee, he is not a Cabinet member. I believe that most of our honest hard-working Cllrs of both main parties are not happy with what they see going on and will be asking pertinent questions about various issues. The problem is that they are snowed under with a deluge of 'bumpf' and as part-timers giving up their time on behalf of the community, they are largely un-aware of the detail I have been covering. In addition, when they ask for information from officers (see my extract regarding Cllrs Cameron and Moores)they are regarded as inpertinent 'schoolboys' by Council Officers. I regard this as quite extraordinary and I hope Cllrs will address the issue of who runs TDC urgently; is it our Cllrs or grossly over-paid council officers who forget their place?

Anonymous said...

Bertie, although 01.26 was incorrect regarding Cllr Gregory having a place in the Cabinet, I do echo his/her sentiments. Very many of our councillors work very hard for their constituents and as you say give a tremendous amount of their own time to this, but there is a hard core who would appear to do nothing but represent their own interests. Yes there does seem to be a form of local 'Mafia' which seems to revolve around the leader and his deputy and comprises some councillors and some officers. The Planning Dept especially seems a little bit more than just incompetent.

Matt the Hat said...

Being critical of Mears cost me a ride in an ambulance and enough harassment to stop me blogging. Watch your back Bertie.

Bertie Biggles said...

Thanks for the warning, Matt. If readers want to know more go and visit Matt's Thanet Council Exposed at www.thanetcouncil.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...


You do not need to watch your back, the twelve disciples are doing that for you?

It does make you wonder what our boys in blue are actually doing about all this, as you and us have had some rather interesting meetings with them!! Perhaps its time to get a certain gentleman at Force HQ at Maidstone to done a pair of un-shiny trousers to deal with some matters down here.


D8 apologises that he cannot help at the moment as he is serving in a rather interesting place. He informs us that he has a good man standing in for him though?

Bertie Biggles said...

Give D 8 best wishes and thanks.

Anonymous said...

Oh bloody hell Bertie, if you have 12 disciples does that mean that you now walk on water?

If so, remember me when your turning the next batch of water into wine, and turn a couple of ewers into scotch!

Bertie Biggles said...

22.45, they are not my disciples, but I am glad they are around!
As for ewers of water into scotch; wish I could!