Page last updated at 19:01 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Scathing report on council chaos

Waltham Forest Town Hall
The Council which commissioned the report, has apologised

A scathing report has criticised "damning" failures of leadership at an east London council that led to an era of financial chaos.

The review of Waltham Forest council, by London Development Agency chief Sir Peter Rogers, found numerous contracts were awarded against the rules.

In one case a council officer gave a £30,000 contract to an outside firm that he was shortly to join.

The council, which commissioned the report, has apologised.

Sir Peter wrote: "Waltham Forest has been an authority in a hurry to improve with good reason.

"Fundamental is a need to deal with the culture of Waltham Forest."

In 2002 Audit Commission inspectors rated Waltham Forest as one of the worst councils in England.

Sir Peter Rogers
Good organisations learn from problems and rectify them. Waltham Forest appears to do neither
Sir Peter Rogers

The Council recently received four-star ratings from inspectors.

But Sir Peter found the "reckless push for stars" meant there was no focus on following proper processes, particularly in the area of finances.

One contract criticised was an award of £240,000 to education company, Eduaction.

Sir Peter said: "It has been impossible to find any individual within the council who understands what has been delivered for the money.

"Of even more concern, there appears to be little concern from the key people that this is the case."

'No excuse'

On another occasion a senior officer awarded a £30,000 contract to a company with the full knowledge of his bosses that he was soon to join that organisation.

Sir Peter said: "There can be no excuse for this behaviour. It questions the ethics at the heart of any well-governed public sector body."

The report found that just 19% of all contracts awarded by Waltham Forest were compliant with rules.

It also warned: "Informal briefings have replaced reports to cabinet and as a result mistakes have gone unremedied [sic] for years.

"Good organisations learn from problems and rectify them. Waltham Forest appears to do neither."

The report also made clear the human resources department was in a state of disarray, with no disciplinary procedures in place and staff operating with a feeling of impunity.

What were councillors doing when it was all going wrong? How could the Audit Commission award four stars?
Professor Nick Tiratsoo

Professor Nick Tiratsoo, formerly chairman of a local neighbourhood forum, has campaigned to highlight the financial irregularities.

He told BBC London: "I realised in 2004 that money was going wrong. Large sums of money meant for regeneration were completely untraceable while more was paid to consultants for feeble reports."

Professor Tiratsoo added: "This report is a step forward because it shows systemic failures. But what were the councillors doing when it was all going wrong?

"How could the Audit Commission award four stars?"

Chief executive at the Council, Andrew Kilburn, said: "This is a very hard hitting report. Our residents deserve better than the systemic failures the panel has uncovered.

"I will be asking cabinet to accept the recommendations in full."

Councillor Chris Robbins, Leader of the Council, said: "The report has highlighted significant failures in contract management over a number of years.

"I want to apologise to the residents of Waltham Forest for the failure of the Council."

Both men emphasised that they had only recently taken up their current roles at the Council.

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