Friday 31 August 2012

Mrs Angry v Mr Hughes: Round Three

Mrs Angry is not awfully fond of donkeys

As you may recall, Mrs Angry has been trying, no, struggling, for some time to focus the close attentions of shy and retiring external auditor, Mr Paul Hughes, of Grant Thornton, on matters of concern relating to our local authority's incompetent management of financial matters, here in Broken Barnet.

In Broken Barnet, our Tory council, a team of donkeys led by donkeys, is not so much risk averse as fearless: knowing no boundaries, so fearing no consequences. This reckless is clearly leading us into a minefield of dangers, and one might hope that our external auditor would recognise this, and seek to guide the donkeys out of the field. But it seems not.

Mrs Angry, after a long career in audit (two years in armchair audit is an awfully long time, anyway: and her non compliant contract runs out soon, hopefully) ... Mrs Angry is getting very fed up with fellow auditor Mr Hughes and his kind regards and his I am not going to do anything letters. Here is her latest reply to him, anyway:

Dear Mr Hughes

Thank you for your response.

Setting aside the reasons you give for not accepting my concerns about the risks of the One Barnet programme, and although I appreciate that that your powers as auditor are defined by law, and subject to certain limitations, I must say that I simply do not understand how you can justify such a clear reluctance to investigate what is undoubtedly a serious matter of public interest. I refer, of course, to the matter of potential conflicts of interest regarding senior officers and their links, either before or after employment by the council, with private companies engaged in procurement exercises with Barnet Council.

In your recent response to me, you wrote:

"We have not identified any material areas of
concern in relation to ethical standards. As
indicated in my previous letter we will, however,
look into your point over potential conflicts of
interest as part of the 2012/13 audit.

If you have no 'material' areas of concern in relation to ethical standards, there should be no reason to 'look into' my point. This would mean that you find it perfectly acceptable for the council not to maintain a properly maintained register of interest for all officers involved in the competitive dialogue of £1 billion worth of contracts for council services, and that you find it perfectly acceptable that several senior officers have come to Barnet and gone to such companies during the dialogue process. If this is not a serious matter of concern, in relation to ethical standards, then I think perhaps there is something gravely wrong with the interpretation of your role as auditor in this respect.

Since I last wrote to you there have been allegations of another senior former Barnet officer leaving the authority and immediately taking a post with a company which has been awarded a contract with which he has been associated, as reported by blogger Mr Mustard today:

..."Another problem with the Contract is that it is based upon the model of the British Parking Association (honorary treasurer John McArdle - you do know don't you that our ex Parking Manager, formerly an employee of NCP which spun NSL out of its business is now a Strategic Development Consultant at NSL - another one of those conflict of interest questions that Mrs Angry is always quite correctly banging on about) on whose Executive Council sit two NSL executives ..."

Without implying any personal wrongdoing whatsoever on the individual's part, in the interests of transparency and in order to avoid the perception of a conflict of public interest, surely the authority should have in place restrictions which would mitigate the risk inherent in such immediate re-employment?

You indicate that you will 'look into' this point, yet this is a promise you have made previously, more than a year ago, and no effective action has been taken by the authority.

The reason I asked you to investigate this matter urgently is because the dialogue process to which I refer is at an advanced stage, and time is running out.

'Looking into' the matter at a leisurely pace, if at all, over the next year is in my view, and I would think in the view of any reasonable person, in these circumstances, a totally inadequate response. The tax payers of this borough have a right to expect the district auditor to be more assertive and proactive in the investigation of such matters of concern, and a refusal to respond with any sense or urgency to this request may well appear to residents to be unnecessarily favourable to the interests of the authority, rather than acting in order to safeguard the value for money - their money - in the performance of their local council's financial administration.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Angry

1 comment:

Mr Mustard said...

I think you are going to have to go the whole 12 rounds with this one Mrs A and I predict that the Auditor will be counted out on his feet.