As the scandal of Stafford Hospital reveals, an organisation can tick all the boxes for a Labour Government list of 'targets' and be thus rated highly, yet still manage to fail disastrously in its prime purpose. In Stafford Hospital's case, they would appear to have forgotten that caring for patients was their primary purpose but as this wasn't a Labour Government 'Target', it wasn't addressed with any priority and patients seemed to have died as a result.
I believe we have a similar problem at Local Government level and more specifically at TDC.
Readers might remember our report in August last year about a scandal of tax-payers money being ripped off in Housing & Maintenance work at TDC. (see www.thanetstrife.blogspot.com/2009/08/mears-group-tdc-and -scandal-in-tdcs.html )
The facts were vague at the time but enquiries and TDC 'moles' have revealed that EKAP (Internal Audit at TDC) looked at 10% of contracts completed by Mears Ltd and found a sum in the region of £60,000 had been wrongly charged. If you extrapolate the Audit sample you are looking at a loss to the tax-payer of £600,000. Questions one might ask could perhaps be 'If EKAP found £60,000 of odd charging in 10% of samples why did it not do a 100% check of all work carried out by Mears Ltd in the period reviewed?'
Enquiries have revealed that in the Audit Periods 2007/08 and 2008/2009 that despite £60,000 of wrong charging having been identified it would seem that Mears Ltd was only required to 're-pay' £30,000 and that how this was re-paid has been avoided by TDC when asked. It caused sufficient concern to principled officers to enquire with The Finance Officer how £60,000 was reduced to a £30,000 pay-back. They did not receive a satisfactory answer. It was also interesting to be told by TDC souurces that the new inspection regime insisted on by EKAP was watered down by the simple process of removing an officer from inspection of contract work, who was too critical and putting another officer on the job who was 'less critical'. Such is the way that 'target performance indicators' are met by a contractor.
It was also interesting to be told that a TDC Officer received an 'honorarium' from Mears Ltd. How does that work?
Would it be too cynical to suggest that as a joint TDC and Canterbury CC contract was put out to tender for 'Hosusing & Maintenance' last year that TDC was compliant in playing down the 'scandal' that EKAP exposed? You might like to consider that a contract was awarded in December but that TDC failed to announce it in a Press Release. I wonder why not? Mears Ltd was not so reticent as their December press release below indicates:
Canterbury City Council
A five year partnership to provide responsive repairs and voids services to Canterbury City Council. The contract includes external decoration programmes and disabled aids and adaptation improvements. The contract is valued at £28 million for the initial five year period with a performance option to extend to 15 years increasing the value to in excess of £82 million . We are the sole provider appointed to provide services to the Council's 5,298 homes.
Thanet District Council
A five year partnership to provide responsive repairs and voids services to Thanet District Council, which was jointly procured with Canterbury City Council. The contract includes external decoration programmes and disabled aids and adaptation improvements. The contract is valued at £13 million for the initial five year period and also includes a performance option to extend to 15 years giving a value of in excess of £40 million. We are the sole provider appointed to provide services to the Councils 3,116 homes. Thanet District Council has been a client of Mears since 2004.
So despite some previous odd goings on in the past in Housing & Maintenance in Thanet, Mears Ltd has a very lucrative contract for many years to come.
Well you might say, what has The External Auditor to say about all of this? He cannot deny that The NAO was ignorant of the facts as they are 'embedded' with EKAP in the audit process. ( TDC minutes show that NAO staff regularly attend EKAP and Governance & Audit Committtee). Now forgive me for being naive but I had always assumed that one of the functions of NAO was to expose and investigate any loss to the tax-payer that was fraudulent. No, that is not the case it would seem. As long as Government 'Targets' are met by TDC it gets a clean bill of health by the NAO. Llike the watchdogs at Stafford Hospital who gave the hospital the highest ratings, our External Auditor at The NAO can give TDC 'ticks' in Government Target boxes but blithely ignore fraudulent loss on a grand scale to the tax-payer. Here is an extract from an e-mail sent by the NAO external auditor to a member of the Strife team:
I believe that you are asserting that:
- the accounts for 2008/09 should be qualified because they do not disclose as a separate note all transactions with Mears (as opposed to the current practice which is to include all costs relating to housing contracts within the HRA)
- I should investigate and potentially report in the public interest on any losses to the taxpayer arising from the Mears contract. .........As regards the other points that you have raised below and in your phone message, I am unable to comment on the figures you have quoted as these are matters for the Council. I would like to point out that as external auditor I am not 'fully embdedded' with either EKAP or Thanet Council........... I am independent of the Council and I have no role in the Council's decision making process. Furthermore, as I have said to you before, it is not my role to be detective or fraud hunter.
So I leave you, the reader, to consider what this means. The NAO gave a 'clean bill of health' to TDC because the right boxes could be ticked. It would seem that investigating loss through over-charging to the tax-payer is not in its remit just as at Stafford Hospital, the various 'watch-dogs' had no remit to investigate why so many patients were dying.