Saturday, 1 August 2009


A snippet in today's Telegraph revealed that Bob Holloway, who oversees the local government pension scheme for The Dept of Communities and Local Government believes the scheme is unsustainable and unaffordably generous. You might be less pleased to discover that as a pensioner just above the 'council tax credit' limit, that £300 of the average household's Council Tax charge you pay goes to pay bigger local government pensions than yours! I digress.
Readers will be aware that I have taken an interest in Audit matters concerning TDC. A question was put by one of my researchers to external auditors as follows:

Q.2 TDC's statement shows 'car loans to employees' in its debtors list. How many loans have been made and what is the total debt for this? (It does beg the question should TDC provide this service to employees!) The answer received was as follows:
"There are 4 car loans and the outstanding balance is £28,368.26. The Council do have the powers to provide such a scheme and this is a policy decision for them. According to their policy, the scheme is provided to assist employees in purchasing vehicles as many need the use of a vehicle to carry out their daily work.".
I don't know what you may think about this answer, but I am not pleased. I still digress.
Time to talk about Contract Procedure Rules (CPRs). I am sure that you must be aware that TDC has to spend £millions of pounds of tax-payers money to carry out its responsibilities. In order to prevent abuse, corruption or not achieving best value for the tax-payer a strict set of CPRs has to be followed. Simply put, boundaries are put in place for amounts spent and who can authorise them. Upto £10,000 can be authorised by delegated officers on just ONE quote; then upto £75,000 must have THREE quotes; upto the EU threshold of £140,000 the contract has to be advertised and at least 3 tenders sought. Above this threshold tighter competitive tendering is required. My understanding is that above £10,000 must be approved at Cabinet level or waivered consent/delegation made.
You will not be pleased to read as I did, that East Kent Audit Partnership (EKAP) first reported in December 2008 that it was concerned that TDC was not meeting its Business Objective:
"To ensure compliance with the Council's Contract Procedure Rules and thereby ensuring that goods and services are acquired at the best cost/value to the Council. " (i.e Tax Payer!)
EKAP reviewed a small sample of 20 purchase orders each exceeding £10,000. 6 failed to adhere to CPRs at all; of the other 14, 5 only complied because of a 'waiver'. In other words, 55% of the orders looked at HAD NOT BEEN EXPOSED TO MARKET COMPETITION! (my capitals). As mentioned in an earlier post, EKAP commented that Maritime Services (Ramsgate harbour) had even broken EU rules by disaggregating an order with a supplier into lots of smaller orders to buck the CPR system!
In March 2009, EKAP was still unhappy with CPRs in regard to EU Procurement Rules not being followed and allocated a further 5 days of investigation as the matter was considered HIGH RISK due to the findings of the CPR Audit reported in December 2008. Only a few weeks ago, EKAP in its report to Committtee in June 2009, was still unhappy with compliance with CPRs and it has only been given 'Limited Assurance' and EKAP intends to review CPRs further this month as an addition to its 2009/10 Audit programme.
EKAP has noted how TDC makes sure, training about and availibility to rules for CPRs on Intranet within TDC are made known to all officers and yet still had this to say only 4 months ago about CPR Compliance (or lack of it)!:

"Limited Assurance level limited for the last two audits. Senior Management Team need to clearly communicate to officers that the Council will not tolerate non-compliance with the Council’s CPRs and will take a firm and robust stance with any future incidents of non-compliance potentially including disciplinary action." (This is blunt speaking from Auditors!)
I am scandalised and amazed at this. We as the public need to find out in detail what was spent where, when, with whom and on what , that broke TDC's CPR rules. We also need to raise the question, in light of the apalling situation regarding both CPRs and Maritime Services, how the Senior Council Officers are being held to account on what looks like inept management and widespread lack of compliance that is rife throughout TDC. Don't expect to find this information easily!
Before I go and dig further into what looks like some very odd goings on that EKAP have looked at in Housing Repairs & Maintenance, I leave you with this extract from the minutes of The Governance and Audit Committtee of June 2008 to illustrate how hard it is for even our own Councillors to get information and begs the question of who is actually running TDC, our Cllrs or highly paid officers with car loans and unsustainably generous pensions?:

"Councillor Cameron raised a query in relation to a question he had asked of an officer in relation to ‘asset disposal policies’. He was asked ‘why do you want to know’? As a Councillor he did not expect to be asked this. Sue McGonigal suggested that the question may have been asked to better understand what information was required. He added that there was too much secrecy and that it could have been a freedom of information disclosure. Councillor Moores added that he had had the same problem trying to get simple answers to simple questions.......".


Cllr. Mike Harrison said...

And they are both members of the ruling Group, imagine then the problems Opposition Members have getting information and answers to questions.
That is why we have to use the FOI so often.

Bertie Biggles said...

A number of Cllrs, Ind and Labour, have told me that their enquiries are often dealt with in a dismissive fashion, as per Cllr Cameron's enquiry or just ignored. I don't care what the political background of a Cllr is when making enquiries on behalf of the electorate that elected them; they are acting on our behalf and perhaps politicised/arrogant officers need to be reminded of this?

Anonymous said...

I've had FOI Act requests ignored until I've reminded them the due day has passed. i then get something on the lines of 'commercial sensitivity' even though often my enquiry has had nothing commercial or sensitive about it.

I read the Deputy Chief Executive is moving on. Wonder if there'll be any changes once he's left for a new post in Ashford?

Appalled voter said...

This whole situation gets worse and worse. What's next, for heaven's sake?

Anonymous said...

So many Council officers forget that they work for us! whether we are Councillors or Council tax payers they must answer any questions posed to the best of their ability and not just be dismissive!
When I was a councillor many of the officers earned twice as much as myself (and with less hours)with guaranteed pensions,when we had to sack one he received a large golden handshake even when he was in the wrong and started work with another authority the very next week, they are think they are a law to themselves, keep niggling away until they give the answer, thank goodness to THE F.O.I.ACT.

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

Richard, please accept my apologies for 'editing' your long posting and I show below, that which I feel is relevant to the strand:

Richard Card said:

"When FOI requests are sent TDC will claim not to hold records.

For example TDC claims to hold no records for a former Chief Executive cautioning Cllr Maison about accessing other cllrs' mail. My source is ex Cllr Margaret Mortlock who took Cllr Maison before Chief Executive.

Was the mail access at a time anonymous information was being sent to TDC about Sericol ? And when complaints were being sent about live fire training activity at 6th Thanet Gun Range ?

As far as I know the only anon information to get through to TDC was about red staining of chalk layers at Sericol. My recent FOI requests (which first exposed the Sericol contamination to public domain) obtained a reply which implies any red staining would be the result of the remediation process then secretly under way.

But Labour cllrs were told that red staining had enabled early detection of a leak and that the leak had not reached the aquifer.

This was a serious lie to elected Labour cllr(s)"

02 August 2009 18:58