Friday, 20 July 2012

Future Jobs Fund Report Arrives at Last

....or most of it at least.

Yes, in a surprise development, NCC has released a copy of the District Auditors report into Future Jobs Fund irregularities that they had been desperately trying to keep from the hoi-polloi. Presumably this is following discussions with the Information Commissioner.

First thing to say is that there seems to be absolutely no excuse for them to have kept the report secret at all. Originally they told me that the report was exempt because they were intending to publish it in the future. Presumably the fact that this hasn't happened has prompted the Information Commissioner to prod things along a bit.

Now they are saying

" was this Council’s opinion that the report should not be disclosed (at that time) as it was yet to be considered by the Council’s Audit Committee..."

At the Audit Committee meeting itself, councillors voted to discuss the report in secret because publishing it would supposedly prejudice a potential Standards Committee investigation into former councillor Hassan Ahmed's conduct. Are we to assume that's not going ahead now?

The thing is, the main body of the report doesn't actually mention anybody or any of the groups by name. Yes, it's obvious they're talking about Ahmed when it mentions the Portfolio Holder for Employment and Skills and the two Corporate Directors mentioned are identifiable (Barry Horne and Michael Williams, both also long gone) but that is no good reason to keep the report secret. The only part with any personal details in is an appendix with details of Ahmed's myriad connections to groups who, by an amazing coincidence, received a large amount of public money. And that was all redacted.

Anyway, there follows a short summary of what the report says. I've linked above to the rather comprehensive summary the Post wrote when it got hold of a leaked version so have a look at that, or the report itself, if you want more detail

  • In some circumstances e.g. urgency the council can suspend normal procurement rules but to do so must be formally authorised by the Portfolio Holder. In this case the rules were dispensed with but no formal authorisation took place.
  • Decisions to award contracts that should have been authorised by the Portfolio Holder apparently taken by officers instead. Contracts were worth around £500k in some cases and the maximum an officer can authorise is £200k.
  • Barry Horne in particular is singled out for not keeping on top of this and for not keeping records of decisions that he made.
  • Decisions for 5 contracts of £1m each which should only be made by the Executive Board, yet no clear records of who made them.
  • One contract extended twice, from £1m to £1.5m, then to £2.5m, despite clear rules prohibiting contracts being extended more than once.
  • Lack of required input from Legal Services in award of large contracts.
  • Late addition of further requirements to contracts putting some tender organisations at a disadvantage.
  • Hassan Ahmed's many connections to organisations bidding successfully for contracts, his involvement in the decision making to award such contracts and his failure to notify others involved of his interests.
  • The bid for funding for the programme differed markedly from reality; the bid stated that 'partners' formally signed up, in fact the bid was submitted via the already long formed One Nottingham, some 'partners hadn't even seen the bid even though it was submitted in their name, steering group mentioned in bid not formed until late in the day.
  • Late involvement of 'intermediary' organisations, lack of clarity as to how they had been chosen, half of all contracts issued via these intermediaries.
Like I say, there's lots more in the detail so do have a read.

The bit I don't understand is that the District Auditor says -

"My concerns arise from the need for transparency and good corporate governance rather than that there was any actual inappropriate allocation of contracts (in relation to which I did not find any evidence)."

before going on to, as far as I can see, provide lots of details of how contracts were awarded inappropriately. If a contract is awarded by a public body without the required authorisation then that is at the least 'inappropriate', probably illegal I'd have thought.

But of course no-one will face any sanctions. To be fair, the main players are all now gone, sacked stood down by mutual consent, sacked retired and sacked deciding not to stand again. And of course, no doubt that great public sector fuck-up mantra can be repeated, 'lessons have been learnt', even if they haven't.

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