Monday, 9 July 2018

Audit reports, and more


A couple of reports, worthy of a mention, are on the agenda for Friday's Audit Committee. First up is an internal audit report identifying 'fundamental weaknesses' in the council's management of its leased property. As usual the report lacks detail, it is not even clear if the reference is to residential or commercial property, or both.

A sample test of leased properties was taken and the report "identified concerns in the management and administration of the Authority’s assets" and found that "agreements were not always up to date", neither were they reviewed or renewed on time" and furthermore "evidence was not always available to demonstrate that best value had been obtained for the authority"

The report concluded that the procedures and controls were not "sufficiently robust" to "demonstrate adequate clarity and accountability over the lease of the Authority’s properties...Adequate monitoring of properties with agreements / leases is not always undertaken. In particular, the finance element of leased properties is not being managed appropriately".
Income isn't being collected promptly (if at all perhaps?) and records are not being properly maintained.

It is remarkable that that the council, with it's apparently shrinking budget; raising council tax, cutting services and shedding jobs, has failed to collect or properly manage and record the valuable income it gets from leased properties. Let's hope the Audit Committee will be given some honest detail for once, and can determine whether there have been and fraudulent or unlawful transactions and/or financial losses to the taxpayer.

As I have mentioned, Carmarthenshire Council and it's chief executive are currently the 'Accountable Body' for the City Deal, administering and managing the finances...they may want to get their own house in order first. Then again, deals enabling corporate entities and business associates to suck the lifeblood out of the taxpayer for years to come are right up Mr James' street...

Obtaining 'best value for the authority' does remind me of a certain deal with Scarlets' Regional Ltd where the chief executive, Mr James, certainly secured 'best value', unfortunately this was for Scarlets' Regional, not the authority...

The second report is from the Wales Audit Office which is also difficult to decipher. It appears to stem from two cases where "failings in people management had led to employee dismissals; losses in revenue or assets; and negative publicity for the Council.". One of the cases might well refer to the fiasco and cover-up at Pembrey Country Park (please search this blog for background, including here) though this is not stated in the report.

To 'review' what had happened, the council raided the Dictionary of Council Jargon and put several random words together, creating a "Corporate People Performance Management Review Working Group". The WAO have helpfully called it the 'review group'. The group met and discussed 'lessons learned' (of course) and, presumably, the management of people performance, whatever that might be.

As an aside it is worth remembering that there are a plethora of working groups, review groups, 'task and finish' groups, strategy and policy boards and other similarly titled bodies within the council who, by their nature, are not required to publish any agendas, minutes or decision notes, the most notorious being CRWG, set up to make the council 'more transparent'. This trend is growing and is a convenient way to subvert transparency and public engagement.

Anyway the WAO seemed pleased with the process of the 'CPPMRWG' review which made no less than ten recommendations. One of the recommendation was to review and update the guidance on declarations of interest, which is something we can all agree on...

However, despite the recommendations being formally proposed seven months ago, none of them had been implemented. The WAO concluded that this delay meant that the failings identified in the two review cases could be repeated.
Oh dear.

You can read the report here

* * *

The latest version of the council's Social Media policy was up for approval at last Monday's Executive Board meeting. The policy is nothing out of the ordinary and is an updated version of those which have been in place for the last ten years or so.

The policy, which is specifically for employees, restates a certain clause which prohibits the use of the internet for personal use during working hours. No one will mind, presumably, if you pop in to check twitter for five minutes in your lunch break, but hours of trawling blogs to acquire 'evidence' for your own private grudge, for instance, is not allowed and could lead to serious disciplinary action.

This is exactly what happened in 2016 when the chief executive trawled, or, more likely, instructed staff to trawl, through this blog for hours to cobble together his failed complaint to the police. I happened to save the hit logs from a couple of these unusually lengthy visits.

There have been many more instances where clearly Mr James has saved himself the tiresome expense of instructing a solicitor to do this lengthy exercise and used council staff and computers instead, but as I had happened to have saved this particular evidence, I raised it with the Wales Audit Office. After while they replied and said that what he had done was acceptable, staff were allowed to do this.

You may think this was unusual, being able to pursue your private interests using publicly funded resources, bloody astonishing really, but more was to come. Further enquiries, via freedom of information revealed that this generous money-saving perk didn't actually extend to any one else other than Mr James.

In fact, in the past few years, no less than eight members of staff had been disciplined for using council computers to pursue their private interests.

Astonishing.

Anyway, from unlawfully pocketing tens of thousands of public money, to breaching an undertaking to his employers, we know that Mr James prefers to spend other people's money, he said so himself....


Click to play

3 comments:

Peter Morgan said...

https://www.reddit.com/r/Wales/comments/8x5zrn/audit_reports_and_more_carms_council_and_mega/

Tessa Finch said...

Great post. You've really highlighted what a load of pointless old bollocks it all is, especially when it comes to our esteemed CBeebie (Herald's Cadno's term, borrowed without permission but with thanks to the old fox) who makes it up as he goes along. Makes you wonder just how bad he'd have to be for anything to get done, as what you describe has to be gross misconduct, a complete breakdown in the relationship of trust with the employer.

caebrwyn said...

Thanks Tessa, I'm not sure quite how bad it has to be either, he's already been caught with his hand in the till, less protected employees would have departed long ago in the back of a police car.