Wirral Council is reeling from a second bombshell over the way it administers its affairs.

The authority has come under fire from district auditor Michael Thomas who has questioned whether the it has “proper arrangements to secure value for money in its use of resources.”

It follows a report from independent consultants last week that revealed a devastating catalogue of failures by Wirral Council and claimed the authority was in the grip of a corrosive and inward-looking culture where the needs and rights of residents had become submerged under its “bureaucratic machinations.”

Local authority watchdog Mr Thomas aimed a key criticism at a council highways contract which was outsourced two-and-a-half years ago to save money. The council was warned last year that its tendering process for the multi-million pound contract could have left it facing “substantial damages.”

In 2008 the council set in place a Highway and Engineering Services procurement exercise intended to bring together several separate contracts into one £8m deal to cut costs.

In his report, which was studied by the council’s audit committee this week, Mr Thomas said: “We reviewed the benefits realisation of the HESPE contract, which has been in operation for the last two-and-a-half years, and found the council is not able to determine whether it is receiving better value for the money spent.”

Mr Thomas' criticism went further: “A number of governance and internal control issues are impacting on the efficiency and effectiveness of the council; for example arising from the whistle-blowing issues in the department of adult social services and technical services.

“We have also raised concerns over the recording and control of assets.”

Council leader Cllr Steve Foulkes has pledged to sort out the problems, including setting up a cabinet committee to oversee necessary changes.

The independent "corparate governane" report – which cost taxpayers £250,000 – was carried out in response to as scandal first exposed in the Wirral Globe.

In 2008 we exclusively reported whistle-blower Martin Morton’s revelations of systematic over-charging of vulnerable and disabled residents in council care homes.

Anna Klonowski was appointed by former Tory council leader Cllr Jeff Green to look into Mr Morton’s allegations and then widened her inquiry.

She concluded that the local authority’s corporate governance – how it was run – is in crisis.

Councillor Green said the Klonowski report had demonstrated that “massive failings” had been found.

Referring to the HESPE contract Cllr Green said: “I asked how the administration could have gone ahead with this without any performance management information.

"I also pointed out that one of the actions of Cllr Foulkes was to throw off Conservative members of the all-party steering group for the HESPE contract.

“This is a classic case of exclusion, secrecy and decision-making behind closed doors that has led to this point.

"Labour seems incapable of listening and learning to put things right.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Tom Harney has called for the scrapping of the existing council power chain.

He said: “The present system marginalises the majority of members of the council and puts too much power in the hands of the cabinet.

"Is it any wonder we have the problems referred to?”

He added: “The three parties on the council need to explore how we can work together and put party differences aside while things are sorted out. This is vital for the sake of Wirral residents, businesses and employees.

“This is why we are calling for the creation of an emergency all-party unity executive board until new permanent arrangements can be put in place.

"Each council meeting should get reports on the work being done and this will ensure public accountability.

“We are fully committed to genuine co-operation and all-party working to play our part in navigating Wirral through this crisis.

"However the challenge is for the Conservatives and Labour to work with each other as well as us, setting political differences aside to act together for a better council.”

Council leader Cllr Steve Foulkes said: “We can’t undo the past. We must listen and learn; be more vigilant and more challenging of officers and the documents they receive to ensure we achieve value for money.

“Our job is to get all systems right and see that we don’t make the same mistakes in the future. At least we have taken heed of the district auditor and not awarded the parks and gardens contract to a private firm as the previous (Tory/Lib-Dem) administration would have done.”

Cllr Foulkes criticised what he termed “the headlong drive to privatisation,” and he hit back at Cllr Green’s comments remarking: “This silly behaviour in using this as a political weapon is playing into the hands of more chaos.”

Cllr Foulkes said he planned to meet the district auditor “to hear chapter and verse from him.” He added: “These are difficult times for the authority – to say it isn’t good would be an understatement.”