“NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE”. Top Bosses not in control nor is the cost for consultants known!
Flintshire Leader 22/1/16.

On 2711 :16, observers at the first Audit Committee of the year will have learnt several important things about how this local government they may not have known before.

Our high earning top team appear not to be able to operate without eve more expensive consultants to hold their hands & no one can prove if they are value for money. Accountability seems non existent and “where the buck stops” in this Authority remains a mystery! The Labour Cabinet who are responsible for all governance is in denial. Not only they can1 seem get a firm grip on this Authority’s finances, they don1 seem to care if their Directors ignore their policy designed to monitor use of consultants and by so doing run up enormous bills. Incredibly, although no one knows the true figure for the latest lot, believed to be £2.8 MILLION OF PUBLIC MONEY. Labour’s main goal is to protect their senior officers and fail to call them to account despite such profligate spending, yet again on more conSUltants. £3 millions was the consultant bill in 2010, 4 years later its almost the same. Nothing has been learnt although a robust scheme was devised as Audit Committee who laid down tough clear rules to stop it happening again; or so we thought!

Having drawn up the policy, In November 2011, the top officers came before the Audit Committee & agreed to stick to rules on how consultants were to be employed. The policy covered every aspect from definition of conSUltants to which ledger was to be used, terms of contract and who was responsible for what!

A Labour chairman in place in 2011 when the rules were introduced & was present at the 27th January meeting. Rather than go on the warpath against the officers who had clearly ignored the new rules of 2011, I got the rebuked. I was accused of having a second agenda, we needed to wear tin hats. I was waging a vendetta against the chief officer. Also, I should leave the meeting and withdraw my personal remarks about the Chief Executive. My remarks about the Head of Paid Service may have been a little unkind as blame must rest with the Cabinet as well as both are equally guilty of profligate expenditure. As its my task is to protect the public purse & this latest consultants bill, together with a growing list of errors, would have made up our budget shortfall. Do Labour Cllrs care nothing for this constant drain on tax payers?

The Audit Committee must keep a tight rein on spending, keep financial risk to a minimum & ensure value for money. We are entitled to press officers for information & make robust comments on how the organisation performs. For almost a year this Authority has had no financially qualified qualified Director retired. She was replaced by a non financially qualified Head of Human Resources. This was an odd choice as this is a large and department and Internal Audit often list various shortcomings but AC is not in the blame game. Unfortunately a health issue has prevented the attendance of the human resources finance nominated officer for many months now. Although naturally wishing our sick colleague well, it seems like Panto time at County Hall as all my pleas to appoint a temporary stand if only for the Finance post in has been rejected The chief officer is covering both vitally important posts! Its a bad decision as sadly, a wide range of HR & financial duties has been found wanting every time the Audit Committee meets.

So the merry go round starts turning again; that of devising new policy to deal with the issue, then not being certain new policy is robust enough so further a report is sought only to find that too has failed; goes on & on. One Audit member’s day job is accounting. He bluntly stated he was frustrated by lack of progress. “where is the accountability, where does the buck stop,” he demanded to know. No one was saying.

FACT: The Council appoints a Chief Executive as Head of Paid Service and with responsibility for all aspects of operational management.

FACT: The Authority’s Contract Procedure Rules lays responsibility for appropriate engagement of consultants with chief officers.

Even before the meeting started, a clearly angry chef demanded to know why I had not responded to his email & insisted I spoke to him outside. His fury was caused by me attempting to find out the progress of our absent Head of Finance/HR. If I raised this in the meeting there would be serious consequences! I was prying & would be disclosing private information! I retorted that these topics were at the heart of what was continually going wrong with our financial governance & as n was his failure to manage meant that he must take the blame.

Enraged & apoplectic, yet another apology was demanded from me. I’ve lost count of the times this has occurred. I had no intention of causing further stress so promising silence & I took my seat. The meeting was highly unpleasant & stressful to me. I just don1 need this toxic situation but neither can I to walk away from the dreadful quotes from the shocking comments in Internal Auditor’s report. “Lack of key controls”, meant there a high probability of loss,fraud impropriety, waste damage to reputation&/or failure to deliver objectives” from consultant spending.

One consultant had been awarded work totalling over £160.000 over three years covering 9 separate projects. That this was allowed to continue is further proof that our officers have blatantly ignored the 2011 procedures. The numerous times I’ve asked for an update on use of consultants has also been blatantly ignored.

Fact: 2014115. Officer remuneration excluding employer pension contributions: £1,165,572. yearly.

Employer pension top ups are another huge cost.

FACT: Cost of exit packages for officers leavinglretiring: 2014/15. £5.524,082.

Will Cabinet Leader Shotton please explain why we pay handsome salaries AND for expensive consultants. Aren’t we paying enough for their professional expertise or is something else? We need to know as its not fair on hard pressed residents are stumping up twice. I know I’m in the firing line. “Who will rid me of that b …. y cllr.” Another trip to the Ombudsman could be on the cards maybe!

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