STRAIGHT TO THE POINT. 30TH June 2011. Posted 7-7-11.

The Wales Audit Audit team were present at the Audit Committee meeting on 30th June.  I’m not sure they will want to attend again as we bowled them a few tough questions especially on the escalating cost of the ongoing Ombudsman tribunal as £2million is now thought to be what’s been spent so far.  “Did the auditors know of such heavy costs and what part were our auditors playing in protecting the public purse in the face of such huge costs?” “We are aware of the case” was the answer but this is always the problem with the Audit system.  They cannot intervene until the money’s been spent!  The same frustration arose when I was a member of the North Wales Police  Authority when the force’s Head of Legal Service was suspended for months.  I asked the District Auditor to intervene then as it was clear the case would have to be settled and Mrs Trigger would be awarded costs.  I even met him in Cardiff when I was an AM but the meeting reached stalemate. He said he could not interfere.   Auditors must wait till the money is spent and then report on the waste and the drain on public money.  There must be a better way of protecting the public purse although I confess a solution does not spring to mind.  If Cllr Heesom wins his Ombudsman’s case he will sue and therefore there has to be an outcome even if the costs spiral to £3million.  At least the tribunal will shine a light on this very questionable system of how elected members are pursued on codes that are mostly not fit for purpose.  Only Wales has this type of Ombudsman and there is no way of challenging this Office.  In my own tribunal, the Ombudsman  decided to investigate me for an alleged code breach and then he alone decided I had a case to answer.  What the Authority pays for its consultants continues to worry us as collectively the amount spent to date: £926.290 in six months is not to be sneezed at with the Environment Department hoovering up £228K alone.  I raised the cost of employing consultants months ago when I realised that officers just employed them to sort out a problem that had arisen in any particular department rather than finding an in house solution. Our own audit  has been beavering away researching the topic for months and even determining the definition of a consultant has been tricky. The next biggest spender on purchasing  expert advice  is the North Wales Region Waste Project weighing in with £220K for their  consultants! Is that the total cost to all 6 Authorities or just our total share we asked”?  Just our share.  We recoiled in horror.  Waste recycling is crucial but surely it is fast becoming a lucrative gravy train for advisers a financial  grave yard for the public.  Who authorises  these huge fees? We need to know.   This is a really serious issue but I take comfort from the exchange of emails between myself and our Executive Member for waste who assured me that all the fees were acceptable as part of the regional collaboration on waste recycling  She was really pleased that the Audit committee was keeping en eye on things! I am not going to apologise for raising my concerns and whilst the revelations are disturbing,  I am proud to raise this issue of excessive expenditure which rightly wories  my constituents and all Flintshire rate payers. If a decision is made to site a waste incinerator in Shotton, greatly unpopular with the community and its county councillors then I fear even more questions will be asked as to why Flintshire is having to stump up so much and still bear the brunt of having to live with the recycling process.  As Buckley and Ewloe wards have all the sites used by the Authority, there is now to be yet further request to manage the food recycling waste in Buckley ward again.  Flintshire’s a  big county and part of a bigger region.  Give the south end a break and find somewhere else.  The residents deserve a fairer deal.  I speak only for myself of course on this issue.

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