Kent Messenger Extra 14 December 2001 Front Page
Council attacked over contracts
By Nigel Jarrett
The way in which Tunbridge Wells council handles contracts for work done on its behalf has been branded a "shambles".
Liberal Democrats spoke out at a meeting of the Tory-controlled council last Tuesday (4.12.01) citing serious failures in procedure.
These had been identified in an internal audit, which nevertheless rated the council's systems as "adequate".
Members heard that "adequate" meant controls being in place and met to varying degrees, but with gaps which weaken the system.
But Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr David Mills said: "They are grossly inadequate. They are, hi point of fact, a complete and utter shambles."
He listed a string of discrepancies which he claimed had occurred:
Cllr Mills blamed the Conservative leadership for failing to exercise proper controls over the two-and-a-half-year period reviewed.
He said: "In my view, those at the top with managerial responsibilities in these areas should now be seriously considering their positions."
He called for the Audit and Performance Review Committee to revise the audit report's opinion from "adequate" to "unsatisfactory".
And he demanded a more detailed investigation, with recommendations for putting things' right and action against those responsible for tile failures.
Fellow Liberal Democrat Cllr Brace Ballantine said it had taken nine months from the report's completion for its findings to be put before the committee.
There had been a bid to treat it as an exempt item and at first it had been given low key, "for information only" status.
Cllr Ballantine feared that as the audit had looked only at the overall adequacy of systems, its findings might be "only the tip of the iceberg".
But council leader Cllr James Scholes (Con) insisted: "At all times proper project approval and tendering and contract selection procedures have been in place."
He said that since 1986 a centrally maintained contracts register had been abandoned in favour of individual services keeping their own records.
Where these had been found to be lacking by the auditor, the finance director was recommending a standard format to be maintained by the services concerned.
A report is due, next month, setting out what improvements need to be made, and Cllr Scholes said it could mean standing orders having to be reviewed.
The Liberal Democrats' failed to get the issue referred back to the Audit and Performance Review Committee .wlien councillors voted 22-13 against the move.
A Labour amendment along similar lines but deleting an instruction to downgrade the auditor's opinion to "unsatisfactory", was lost by the same margin.
|now more than 12 months later: 31.01.2003 - Failing Council under Scrutiny|
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