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Audit probe says Wirral Council failing to get its finances in order
INDEPENDENT auditors have given Wirral Council a rap on the knuckles over its inability to secure value for money for taxpayers.
Leading Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Kelly described the audit probe into Wirral Council's financial affairs “a wake-up call for the Labour administration.”
But council leader Cllr Phil Davies has hit-back claiming the report was a reflection of the problems Labour inherited from the previous Tory/Lib Dem administration.
External auditors Grant Thornton said they would issuing a qualified “adverse” opinion on the authority's arrangements to provide value for money.
The auditor highlights “continuing concerns raised by regulators” and “governance weaknesses which have been repeatedly identified in key issues such as whistle-blowing, conflicts of interest, compliance with procedures, risk management, internal audit and providing value for money”
Their final conclusion was the council “did not put in place proper arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources for the year between April 2012 and March 2013.”
Criticism of the town hall's corporate governance will be disappointing for politicians and executives as it echoes a highly-damaging report by consultant Anna Klonowski in 2011.
Ms Klonowski listed a catalogue of failures and concluded the authority was in the grip of a corrosive and inward-looking culture where the needs and rights of residents have become submerged under its "bureaucratic machinations".
Councillor Kelly said: “I have been arguing all year the financial problems being faced by the council are in large part due to the council’s own poor arrangements - and this is now vindicated by the auditor’s report.
“The Labour administration needs to address these issues as a matter of urgency and stop wasting time and money trying to shift all the blame for spending reductions onto others for their own lack of financial control”
Councillor Davies said: “We had to spend all last year fixing this issue.
"We have now addressed it. We brought in a new chief executive, delivered savings of £40m, streamlined the constitution and put the budget on a sound basis.
“We have dealt with a series of problems and entered into a share agreement with West Cheshire which has saved millions of pounds.”
And he scorned the Liberal Democrat's attack, saying: “It’s a bit of a cheek for Cllr Kelly to raise this issue when I inherited the problems from a previous administration - of which the Liberal Democrats were a part.”
The council leader referred to a “Government Peer Challenge” team this year which revealed Wirral Council had undergone “an impressive journey of improvement “ since their previous examination last October.
The team studied development in three key areas – financial risk management, organisational development and transformation, governance and decision-making.
It concluded the council had “made enormous progress in addressing a very challenging set of issues.”
The Grant Thornton report will be considered by the audit and risk management committee next week.
THE KLONOWSKI INQUIRY:
The 2011 investigation was ordered by the then council leader, Conservative group chief Cllr Jeff Green, in response to a scandal first exposed in the Wirral Globe in 2008.
We exclusively reported social services whistleblower Martin Morton's revelations of systematic overcharging of vulnerable and disabled residents living in council care homes.
The corporate governance probe, precursor to an in-depth inquiry into the care homes issue, was led by independent consultant investigator Anna Klonowski who wrote: "In short, evidence confirms the conclusion that over a considerable period of time [Wirral] council has been consistently unable to get a grip of a range of inter-related issues.
"This indicates that Wirral’s corporate governance arrangements were, and probably remain, inadequate.
"The consequence of this inward, insular focus is that over time, residents and service users’ needs and rights have become submerged beneath an increasingly complex set of bureaucratic machinations.
"These have gripped different parts of the council, diverting both attention and resources.
"Despite this, the organisation is still struggling to resolve the problems."
Her report concluded: "In Wirral, practices other authorities would consider abnormal were viewed as commonplace."
The total cost to tax-payers for the investigations was £250,000.
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