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Auditor presents £75,000 bill for inquiry into council's highways contract
FINANCIAL watchdogs have presented Wirral Council with a £75,000 bill for their inquiry into the handling of a highways contract.
The investigation conducted by district auditor Michael Thomas delved into the background of how privately-owned service provider Colas was awarded a £40m, five-year contract to assist the borough's highways and engineering services section in October 2008 after a tendering process.
The review was sparked after whistle-blowers raised concerns with Birkenhead MP Frank Field over alleged "irregularities" in the way the contract had been processed by the council.
The audit probe concluded that David Green, the currently suspended director of technical services, had “probably” broken European Union rules by meeting with a Colas representative and by further failing to declare an interest when the contract was awarded.
Mr Green was suspended from work in March prior to the report being published in early-June.
In a letter to be presented to council cabinet on Thursday, auditor Mr Thomas said his examination had shown the town hall had “exposed itself to significant risks.”
And it continues: “The weaknesses identified were, in my view, indicative of similar failings identified in other recent reports issued to the council.
"They highlighted the need for the council to strengthen its arrangements for demonstrating good governance and securing value for money in its use of public funds.
“My findings have continued to emphasise the need for the council to secure improvements in its arrangements for maintaining sound governance and for securing value for money, not least in the findings of my certification work on the award of a repair contract as part of the West Kirby marine lake protection works claim.”
The marine lake investigation threw up yet another problem for the authority when the audit commission published a further damning report alleging senior council officers had hidden key information over the precarious financial state of a firm handed a major contract to repair the lake.
According to the watchdog, Wirral's technical services department knew that the company, Northwich UK, was in "serious financial difficulties" but handed it the £750,000 contract without telling councillors of the concerns.
The firm started work but pulled out and subsequently went into liquidation.
Total fees charged by the commission for its work with Wirral Council for 2010/2011 are £624,000 - £122,000 higher than had been budgeted.
Reasons for the unexpected hike include that not all of the working papers were presented for audit by deadline, some were not to standard and contained a "significant number of errors in the statements.”
An inquiry by independent consultant Anna Klonowski into adult social services abuses highlighted by another whistle-blower, Martin Morton, cost Wirral council taxpayers £200,000.