Thursday, 23 July 2015

Supporting People Grant - Fundamental failure

(Update 31st July; See also later post; Council's Support Grant failures - in the press)

Each year Carmarthenshire County Council receives a 'Supporting People' grant of around £6.7m from the Welsh Government.

To put it simply, the grant is aimed at helping vulnerable people live as independently as possible and covers, for example, homelessness, domestic violence, drug abuse, mental health issues and physical and mental disability, for young and old alike.
Many of the services are commissioned by the council and provided by external sources.

A recent report from the Council's own Internal Audit shows that all is definitely not well and failures delays and mismanagement of this grant, by the Council's Department for Social Care have led to the Welsh Government withholding £3m until the appropriate certificates have been signed off, currently a year overdue. This is shocking.

The Internal Audit found  'Fundamental weakness' for the second year running which, in general terms of risk means; "inadequate controls, a high risk of not meeting objectives and a high risk of fraud, negligence, loss and damage to reputation".

The Authority’s Financial Procedure Rules have not been complied with and in particular, monthly payments to providers had been paid in advance without any authorisation - advance payments are not permitted without prior approval.

Documentation to support spending was insufficient and money was being transferred to in-house service provision without any documentation to prove that it was either eligible or met the grant criteria. Payments to providers were also being made which lacked supporting documentation.

There was also non-compliance with the council's Contract Procedure Rules. Out of 154 Supporting People contracts only ten were current and properly signed by a representative of the Council.
Only one on those had actually been in place and signed in the grant certificate period in question.

In the majority of cases contracts had been awarded without following the appropriate tendering/quotation process. Documentation for contracts are not maintained and the majority of providers do not have up to date contracts.

These contracts were not always signed by a representative of the council and evidence of approval was not available to support the extension of contracts.

Where contracts are in place there was no monitoring to make sure that providers were only getting paid what they were supposed to be.

A further fundamental weakness was identified as 'Insufficient monitoring arrangements' - there was no evidence that the eligibility of providers were being monitored or that they were delivering the service as required by the terms and condition of the grant.

Many had not been visited for eight years and none had received a monitoring visit in the financial year in question. There was also no evidence that the projects were being managed appropriately or progressing as expected.

Although some financial information and 'outcomes' from providers were collated by staff in the department, there were no checks to ensure that any of it was accurate before being provided to the Welsh Government.

The report concludes with a warning that unless there is a marked improvement the council is currently at risk of having grant monies withdrawn and having applications for further funding refused.

The Wales Audit Office are currently assessing the council's grant management procedures in relation to property grants and I would imagine they'd be casting their auditing eye over this lot too. Or they should be.

This is scandalous, what's been going on? No paperwork? Money and contracts being dished out willy-nilly? If this was a private company they'd have been strung up by now.

A further Internal Audit report related to VAT accounting procedures within the council. This was assessed as being 'acceptable'. VAT is a complex area but in general the council is exempt from VAT - it cannot charge VAT and can reclaim all VAT it has paid out via it's monthly returns.

I do have one small query though. The unlawful costs incurred for the chief executive's counterclaim for libel was over £33,000, and around £5400 of that was VAT, which was reclaimed.

I wonder what the legalities are over VAT reclaimed on unlawful expenditure? Perhaps I'll ask HMRC...they don't take kindly to fraud.


Anonymous said...

The WAO needs to get it's self along to the CCC and to start rooting around; leaving no stone unturned but I doubt that will ever happen. Risk management! What risk management?

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

caebrwyn said...

The mind boggles as to who exactly they have been 'Supporting' over the years with this grant - I doubt if much of it has gone to those who really need it - funnelled off to the usual suspects and creating jobs for the boys. It is scandalous.

Sian Caiach said...

what is the Health and Social Care scrutiny committee for? I'm a member and I've never heard a peep of this. We are rarely presented with anything which actually analyses our department's real performance. If we ask for a presentation on something which is the pubic domain which shows us a bad light, it is not allowed to be discussed. The legal advice by which our chair refuses to consider an ombudsman's report, for example, is something she cannot repeat to me, quoting source or precedent.
Has Cllr Gwyneth Thomas really asked for detailed legal advice or is it our own legal department who cannot explain to her why we should not discuss a public document?
If the councilors are not informed of problems, how can we trust our civil servants? I am overwhelmed with work, much of which is finding out about things that worry my constituents and aiding disgruntled voters to complain and/or get answers. Mush time is wasted waiting for replies which are evasive or uninformative and require further explanation. Transparent is not an adjective of choice.
Stories like this give the impression that at best, management is in this case inadequate and at worst, grants could have been misused In times of austerity this is unacceptable. We need the most out of every penny.
The Wales Audit Office should have a good look and report on this. Perhaps our Committee's chair could request this and allow us to actually scrutinize the document afterwards? No harm in asking! I will do so.

caebrwyn said...

Thanks for your comment Sian. This report came up at last meeting of the Audit Committee and the minutes have just been published. The Committee were told the usual guff that a 'robust action plan' was now in place, and that progress would be monitored. This seems to be the stock officer response to every poor report. There was no demand for an investigation into the previous history of this grant and the impact of evident mismanagement.
Incidentally, two officers from the Wales Audit Office were also present at the meeting - the minutes do not record whether they even noticed the report.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell there is nothing democratic in the actions of Carmarthenshire County Council when officers & the Executive can avoid answering the concerns/questions of us the public whether voiced by an employee, service user, constituent or County Councillor! A Local Authority should work in the interest of it's residents; when it doesn't WAG has got to become involved. A peer review will never succeed in bringing about the culture change needed as the officers and their supporters in the executive will see to that. We pay our taxes but are not being represented because our representatives are being hamstrung into accepting the status quo. When no one is held to account there will never be change. More County Councillors refusing to stay silent may make a difference as could decent officers refusing to be coerced into wrongdoing (I realise this could be detrimental to a career), but once persuaded to either turn a blind eye or not follow policies and procedures it becomes a slippery slope from which it will not be easy to climb back up from; you will have been hooked into acting against the public interest (Misconduct in Public Office). It is all so depressing!

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)