Thursday, 5 January 2012

Auditor Schmauditor

The District Auditor for Nottingham City Council, Mrs Sue Sunderland, is not fit to be in her job. She has routinely failed to hold the council to account and in fact has repeatedly endorsed NCC's efforts to conceal massive corruption from the public. Let me explain -

Council Publicity

NCC has a history of flouting the law on council publicity. What does Mrs Sunderland do? She writes them a letter. That's it.

Housing Scandal

This is of course the biggie and should have resulted in mass resignations amongst politicians and prosecutions by the police. In the event none of this has happened. NCC has spent £100k on outside solicitors carrying out the council's normal work while the internal legal team carried out its own investigation. Not only is this inefficient (the external legal bods would have had to spend extra time learning NCC's procedures) but the internal team would clearly have been briefed where not to look.

What does Mrs Sunderland do? She says this is all ok and that £100k is a lot to spend on an investigation. It is of course approximately 25% of what she charges for her auditing 'skills' annually.

Harold Tinworth

Tinworth has been working for the council as an £870/day consultant for NCC since around 2006 but his work had never been put out to tender until, following pressure from me, Mrs Sunderland told them to. Opinions vary as to how he was ever employed in the first place.

Mrs Sunderland refused to look into the matter beyond instructing NCC to initiate a proper tender exercise for the work.

Since then the open secret that he was providing political advice on public pay blew up. Despite this Mrs Sunderland refused to re-investigate, saying -

"Following on from the articles in the newspaper to which you drew my attention I have now had an opportunity to explore this matter further. I have not found any evidence that would contradict the Council's response that the contract is for professional support and development for the Leader and other executive councillors and is not related to any political work. As a consequence and linking back to my earlier response to you dated 27 July 2010 I cannot justify any further investigation into this matter."She later claimed -

"My remit is currently limited to the financial years 2009/10 and 2010/11. From the copy invoices I have seen the expenditure during 2009/10 was <£30,000, whilst this may seem a significant sum to an individual, when seen in the context of the Council’s annual gross expenditure of £1,066 million it is negligible"

However I have since heard that this may not be true and that an 'extraordinary audit' could be carried out in these circumstances.

Future Jobs Fund

Interestingly, during my correspondence with Mrs Sunderland regarding the Tinworth affair Mrs S tried to reassure me of her determination to get to the truth as follows -

"You may be aware that I haven't given my certificate on the 2009/10 accounts because I am investigating a query raised by another elector, so I can assure you that I will investigate areas which fall within my remit where there are sufficient grounds to warrant it."

This turned out to be reference to the 'Jobs Plan Review' report.

Now we know that this report contains serious criticisms of the council so it should be public yes? Mrs Sunderland again -

"The Jobs Plan Review is not a public interest report (ie a report issued under S8 of the Audit Commission Act 1998) it is therefore for the Council (not me) to decide how to deal with it."


It is to be noted that a District Auditor has absolute discretion as to whether a report they issue is to be a Public Interest Report.

According to JoCo it was initially planned that the investigation would result in a PIR. From the last council meeting -

"It appears that the DA originally believed that the  allegation,  suggesting,  that  as  a  result  she  may  have  to  issue  a public  report  on  the  matter."

So she changed her mind for some reason, despite the report containing serious criticisms. Now why would she do that eh?

I asked her the following questions -

"1) Why did you choose not to make the report into this matter a public interest report?

2) Are you willing to reverse this decision and make the report public? If not why not?

3) Are you or are you not willing to make any comment at NCC's Audit Committee meeting on Friday concerning the council's decision to exempt your report and insist it is included in the minutes?

4) Considering the number of times that NCC has been found to be acting illegally in reports of various status and your failure to hold them to account do you believe that it is appropriate for the Leader of NCC to continue working for the Audit Commission, bearing in mind the considerable perception of bias that this leads to, not to mention legitimate concerns about what he actually is training your clients to do?"

She refused to answer any of them, merely saying -

"I am sorry but I cannot get into a debate with you on this subject. I have investigated the allegations fully and independently and I have reported my findings, conclusions and recommendations to the Council. I will also follow up on the action taken in response to my recommendations."

So that's alright then.

The most generous conclusion we can draw from all this is that Mrs Sunderland is incompetent and prefers the quiet life, having neither the ability nor the will to robustly challenge and hold NCC to account. For this supine jobbing bureaucrat every man, woman and child in Nottingham is charged something like £1.20 per year. Good value she is not.

However incompetence as an excuse can only go so far and many of Mrs Sunderland's failures start to look somewhat wilful and a little more sinister. Is the relationship too cosy? Yes I personally think it is and I think that it stinks to high heaven.

So someone tell me; who audits the Auditors?

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