Thursday, 21 April 2011

Three Wheels on Their Wagon,,,

Are the wheels finally beginning to come off?

It would seem that others are belatedly beginning to pick up on the financial mismanagement of the council budget by the previous administration. That there was is not in doubt and in my experience it was pretty widespread. The only question to be answered is, was it because of fiscal incompetence or deliberate and calculated disregard of the law?

The latest news to leak out is how the Labour administration took Section 106 money and used it like raiding a child's piggy bank (and in the case of Bugs Bottom literally) to fill their ever increasing black hole in the council's general finances. This is illegal and a senior council officer admitted that this was happening. It is being investigated by an outside body which is necessary because quite frankly I wouldn't trust an internal audit as far as I could throw it.

This isn't an isolated incident. The previous administration used taxi licence fee money in 2009 to pay for the taxi marshalls when other funding sources ceased. This, according to Darlington council officers, is illegal use of taxi fee receipts because it is not allowed by law.

I was told by one senior officer when I asked about a mysterious transfer of £10,000 from a transport account to be careful about asking because I wouldn't get to the bottom of it because of multiple transfers being used to hide its origin and that by investigating it "they" (unspecified) would know that I was onto them.

Then we have the payment of union officials and their being allowed to use paid time for political activity (or policy development as it was euphemistically called) courtesy of the tax payer which was effectively hidden from councillors, again by the trick of if you don't know what to ask for you won't get it.

A request by me for ALL the subscriptions and memberships paid for by the council in a year had the one organisation I knew should have been on there (Nuclear Free Local Authorities) missing from the list I was sent. No-one would have found it anyway because when I complained and was finally sent it, it was listed as Manchester City Council. If the one I knew was on there was missing, what else wasn't I told about? So much for transparency.

When I asked for below the orange book financial figures when I was trying to prepare the budget, I was told that they "didn't exist". Yes, they jolly well did! Took several months and escalation to senior management to get them.

And the use of overstated reserves was another wheeze I discovered that was used by Labour. Put in a far higher figure in the budget reserves than reasonably required for prudence and leech it back into the general accounts to pay for poor-budget management in other departments later in the year. No questions asked.

And these are just some of the things that I happened to bump into.

There's more if anyone had the time to dig properly... but don't get excited, under the council's freedom of information policy an email ceases to exist the moment it is deleted from the council's email system and they will not retrieve copies from the back-ups. I know this to be the case because I was sent a copy of an email from Martin Salter to a senior officer which was missing from those sent to me under my FoI request and even that censored list had to be wrenched from their cold dead fingers after two and a half years by a ruling in my favour from the Information Commissioner.

It appears to have been endemic across the board and I'm happy to say that these practices were stopped the moment they were discovered. Alas for poor council tax payers, I suspect there is a whole lot more that would come out if anyone could afford to conduct a forensic audit of the pre-2010 accounts.

Under Labour the policy was to keep things hidden and create a situation where if you did not know what to ask for you would not get it. No wonder a few council officers are privately hoping that Labour will come riding to their rescue so that they can continue business as usual. Reading deserves better than that.

1 comment:

Jane Griffiths said...

It does indeed, but do be careful. I mean this. When Martin Salter told a journalist "she'll be in a fucking wheelchair" (meaning me) I think he meant it.