LAMBETH PEOPLES AUDIT -101 QUESTIONS FOR LAMBETH COUNCIL’S CABINET – Part One
QUESTION 6 : WHAT IS YOUR REACTION TO THIS QUITE FRANKLY DAMNING INDICTMENT?
On Friday Lambeth Peoples Audit issued a damning report on Lambeth council which found evidence of extensive financial mismanagement and a systemic lack of financial governance costing millions of pounds of public money, discovered by ‘armchair auditors’ using citizens’ powers under the Local Audit and Accountability Act.
The following 101 questions – bar one – are based on issues raised in the report and have been sent by News From Crystal Palace to ALL the members of Lambeth council’s cabinet.
Questions 1 to 25
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (page two)
The Lambeth Peoples Audit’s report refers to “a generally obstructive attitude to the process by Lambeth council”
1: What efforts will Lambeth be making to ensure any Lambeth taxpayer asking questions during this years Lambeth audit, which is currently underway, are not faced with similar obstructive behaviour?
The report says Lambeth’s behaviour includes refusals to comply with instructions from the Information Commissioner.
2: Why have Lambeth consistently refused to comply with the Information Commissioner?
The report says “the team unearthed evidence of extensive financial mismanagement and failings in its financial governance that suggest millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being wasted.”
3: What actions are you taking to investigate these matters?
The report says “Lack of governance within Lambeth council appears to be systemic.”
4: What is your reaction to this?
The report says “it found worrying examples of building and maintenance work being paid for but not carried out.”
5: What actions are you taking to investigate these matters?
The report asks “If, as it appears from our investigations, Lambeth is not in control of its contracts with building and maintenance suppliers, how can residents be confident that their homes are safe?”
6: What is your reaction to this quite frankly damning indictment?
The report says “Local authorities facing deep cuts in central government funding should think carefully before making cuts to financial governance systems.”
7: What is your reaction to this please?
The report says “Harmful cuts to public services could be avoided if Lambeth Council were more rigorous in its financial management.”
8: How will you ensure Lambeth are more rigorous in their financial management?
The report says: “Harmful cuts to public services could be avoided if Lambeth council were more open to public scrutiny and engagement with citizens living in the borough.”
9: How will you ensure Lambeth are more open to public scrutiny and engagement with citizens living in the borough?
Peoples Audit say: “We offered to help the council review how their contracts were operated and to help them save money. “Our group contains some highly experienced finance professionals who could see immediately that there were some significant problems. “Our input could have saved the council significant amounts of money. “Sadly our offer of help was rejected by the council.”
10: Why was the offer of help by Lambeth Peoples Audit rejected? Please state your reasons for refusing this seemingly reasonable request?
4.1 PROBLEMS ACCESSING INFORMATION
The report says Lambeth did not place the notice advertising the local electors’ inspection period on their website until the day before the inspection period started.
11: Why was this?
The report says “Once the audit period had begun the attitude of the council as a whole was obstructive.”
12: Do you plan to take any action against officers or staff as a result of this?
13: IF NOT WHY NOT?
The report says “A number of times officers refused access to information after first indicating that we would have access. “This could suggest that senior management was exerting pressure on officers not to release information.”
14: What is your response to this please?
The report says “Despite repeated chase-up e-mails, for the first week our requests were completely ignored by Lambeth. “We were then told that we were being unreasonable in the amount of information that we were requesting.”
15: In what way do the council define ‘unreasonable’?
16: Did staff offer the same sort of attitude towards Lambeth’s external auditors?.
17: If so, why?
The report says “Lambeth issued a blanket ban on providing contracts or any detailed information with regard to payment of invoices, citing commercial confidentiality.”
18: Why? The National Audit Office’s own website states “the law says you may inspect the accounts to be audited and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them for that financial year.”
The report says “Despite us providing case law and reasoned argument as to why information would not be considered commercially sensitive, at no time did Lambeth justify why they considered information to be commercially confidential.”
19: What was Lambeth’s justification as to why information was commercially confidential?
The National Audit Office’s own website states “You may also not be able to inspect information which is protected by commercial confidentiality. “This is information which would prejudice commercial confidentiality if it was released to the public and there is not, set against this, a very strong reason in the public interest why it should nevertheless be disclosed.”
The report says “It took Lambeth over three weeks to produce the first piece of (minor) information requested.”
20: Why was this?
The report says “If financial systems are being managed properly, finding such information should take a matter of minutes, hours at most.”
21: So – are your financial systems being managed properly?
4.2 MISSING DATA
The report says “Over £8 million of invoices we requested in relation to housing repairs simply do not exist on Lambeth’s accounting system.”
22: Er – Why?
23: And how has this been allowed to happen on your watch?
The report says “There were payments which had been made without either an accompanying invoice or the necessary authorisation.”
24: Again – Why?
25: And again: How has this been allowed to happen on your watch?