Ryeview – August 2009

Taxpayer loses out to bureaucracy and cover-up

John Clark writes…

First published: August 2009 – Gazette & Herald

A massive overspend has come to light at a meeting of Ryedale Councils Audit Committee. Councillors were informed that: “There are some significant weaknesses in budgeting management.”

John Clark asked a typical awkward question, “How much?”

He was told, £230,000 nett. After many weeks and more questions, this figure turns out to be nearer to an overspend of £300,000.

Spending appears to have run out of control. At the most recent meeting John Clark pointed out some very disturbing examples.

  • A company that had asked for £15/hour for work was paid £25/hour. For other work it asked for £25/hour and was paid £35/hour. This must be a situation that needs a convincing explanation.
  • An estimate for ‘hedge cutting’ of £750 has exploded to a £12,000 bill. This produced the following comment “I don’t know what caused the increase, but it was other work.” We still don’t know what the money was spent on.
  • Another example is the building of an office at the depot. This presumably started off life with another estimate for less than £1,000 and just grew to between £10,000 and £13,000.

Members had been told that the overspend was ‘urgent and essential’ items in the ‘repairs and maintenance’ budget. It is hard to see how building an office can be described as either urgent or essential. It is even harder to see how building an office can be described as ‘repairs’ or ‘maintenance’. £12,000 on hedge cutting defies comment.

The biggest problem here is not the waste of money, though this is bad enough. It is not that 8 months after the overspend it is still not known where the money has been spent. The biggest problem is why is the whole situation being covered up?

  • Officers knew about the crisis in the autumn of 2008. Councillors were not informed.
  • In February 2009 Councillors were told “there has been £197,000 overspend on ‘urgent and essential’ maintenance and repairs.” No mention of money being wasted or any other problem at all.
  • In June 2009 Councillors were told: “There are some significant weaknesses in budgetary management.”

None of these statements even hinted at building an office without agreement or spending £12,000 on cutting a hedge.

Awkward questions have revealed that there are major problems with the spending of Ryedale people’s money. At the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on August 6th John Clark proposed the creation of a working party. This group to look at all the paperwork and find out what had happened with the overspend. The Chief Finance Officer spoke against this course of action. He was in effect advising Councillors not to examine his own and other senior officers’ actions. He was possibly advising the councillors not to do their duty of scrutinising the use of public money. Why does he advise members not to examine the waste of money?

The final cover up came at the end of the Overview and Scrutiny meeting. The Tories and the Liberal Democrat Chair of the committee voted to reject the proposal. Not only don’t they want to know but they prefer the people of Ryedale not to know either where and how this public money was spent.

We are now left with the question “which way now?” One thing is for certain, the Liberals do not intend to leave it at that. Awkward questions are needed. Who signed that those bills should be paid? Who authorised this expenditure? Who wants it covered up and why?

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