THE leader of Wirral Council has ordered an urgent investigation into how the authority came to pay £45,000 to a fraudster's bank account believing the cash was going to a care home.

Suspicions a scam was taking place first surfaced when genuine care home proprietors discovered in August that they had not been paid.

Now it’s be revealed a conman pretending to be a care provider had emailed the council’s finance department requesting payments for services should be switched to a new bank account.

The account – which has since been emptied – was entirely bogus.

Councillor Phil Davies hit the roof when it emerged mandatory basic checks were not applied.

He said: “I am absolutely furious about this.

"I have spoken to our chief executive and other senior officers this morning and left them in no doubt we have to do better.

“I have ordered a full investigation to be carried out and concluded as quickly as possible.

"We need to be absolutely sure this kind of thing could never happen again.

“If it turns out that negligence is to blame, then I have made it clear that disciplinary action will follow.

“£45,000 is a large amount of money, and it’s all come from the taxpayer.”

He said the matter is now in the hands of the police.

Joe Blott, strategic director for transformation and resources, said: “In August, fraudsters targeted the council which led to a payment of £45,683 being made to an incorrect account.

“This was reported to the police as soon as we became aware of it and subsequently to Action Fraud – the national fraud reporting line.

“We have mandatory checks and procedures in place to prevent fraud and error.

"However, clearly on this occasion, these were not followed.

“This is unacceptable and we will be taking appropriate action.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Jeff Green said: "You really couldn't make this stuff up.

"The council taxpayers of Wirral have the right to expect proper procedures are followed to ensure their cash is spent wisely and not handed out to conmen.

"The way this scandal came out in the first place is totally extraordinary - we'd be in the dark still were it not for a member of the public submitting a Freedom of Information request.

"I would have expected that, as soon as the crime had been discovered, councillors would have been informed of it and told what steps are being taken to recover the money.

"Sadly, it seems our secretive administration still has learned nothing at all about the need for transparency."

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Phil Gilchrist said: "Councillors across all parties need to be told when things are going wrong.

"There is no excuse for not following procedures. 

"We keep being told the council has turned a corner and is now more  like a ‘normal’ council.

"It’s hard to accept this when things are still being kept hidden.

"With council tax at well over £1,000 for most homes, that’s the hard-earned money from 40 homes lost.

"This has come out from an FoI request, we should reflect on that.

"We need to thank the dogged people who dig and unearth things. 

"They are derided in some quarters, but have uncovered issues that need to be cleared up."

The Freedom of Information request referred to is on the “whatdotheyknow website.

The council’s information officer has refused to answer it on grounds it is "exempt" as the fraud is now a police matter.