Saturday, 2 October 2010

Someone Does the Wrong Thing

I am genuinely stunned by the latest development in the Harold Tinworth Saga.

The Post has published another three articles on the call-in sub-committee (my report of the first day is here) meeting held to look into the decision to formally award him a contract instead of it being all unofficial. It now turns out that in his pitch he proposed advising councillors on preparing their manifesto for the 2011 council elections.

Yes, this supposedly expert consultant who has been both a Leader of a council and a Chief Executive was happy to include an offer to carry out (illegal) political work in exchange for council taxpayers money in a document that would be seen by officers.

It's been clear from the off that the contracted work was a continuation of the work he had been doing since 2006. It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that at least some of his earlier work included political advice which we paid for, seeing as the last election was in 2007. This might explain some of the apparent discomfiture expressed in an early memo on the subject to the then Service Director of Democratic Services Tony McGovern.

However, the bit that really gets my goat is the fact that NCC was intending to keep this secret on the basis that publishing it was against the 'public interest'. The minutes are out now and there is nothing of this in there apart from a summary of the discussion from which the public were excluded.

In a paragraph which gob-smackingly starts with the phrase "In the interests of openness and transparency..." we hear -
"...that the contract, if and when awarded, should have specific managerial parameters; and the work conducted be explicitly non-political in nature;"

and that's it. It turns out that the meeting decided to write to Tinworth to clarify this point.

None of the officers who assessed the bids challenged the original proposal and Cllr Hassan Ahmed must have approved it in its original form with the illegal political activity intact, meaning he had effectively led NCC into an illegal contract. Does approving an illegal contract make you a crook?

Worst of all is that none of the opposition councillors, which included both Tory and Lib Dem group leaders, challenged the decision to hear this part of the meeting in closed session. Way to go chaps, thank you for sticking up for democracy. Although presumably one of them is likely to be the person who leaked the details to the Post.

This is final and conclusive evidence, as if it were needed, that NCC equates 'politically embarrassing' with 'not in the public interest'. See the treatment of the Hardmoor Associates report for earlier evidence of this contemptible attitude.

There appears to have been a brief discussion on the District Auditor's intervention during the second day of the hearing which I didn't attend. Both Cllr Ahmed and Angela Probert the Director of HR admitted that they knew about this yet both were asked about the timing of the tender on day 1 and neither saw fit to mention it then. At the time I thought this info had been kept in the 'exempt information' category but it seems not to be the case.

Despite all this the committee decided that everything was above board and tickety-boo which is something of a whitewash.

Personally I think this was a scandal of the utmost seriousness. £110k of public money appears to have been spent on blatant political activity. I think JoCo should be surcharged for this and I have written back to the District Auditor to request that she reconsiders her decision not to investigate the legality of the payments.

In addition I believe that the contract with Tinworth should not be proceeded with as he is clearly tainted, not just by a willingness to engage in illegal spending of taxpayers' money but by being somewhat incompetent.

1 comment:

alanadale said...

You start to run out of adjectives after a while don't you? Outrageous, unacceptable, corrupt, criminal... somehow, when they've been used so often about JoCo and his gang, you start to wonder if anyone really cares at all.

As for councillor Ahmed, I don't know if approving an illegal contract makes you a crook. I suspect it does... or it shows you to be criminally incompetent... or both.

Let's hope the DA takes this saga more seriously now.