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Bonkers Blog September 2015

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21 September (Part 3) - You couldn’t make it up

There are some stories that take a long time to reach their climax and the end result must not be compromised by the release of too much premature information.

One of those began with a request to examine Bexley’s 2013/14 accounts and in particular their parking contracts and the relationship with the bailiffs who chase the unpaid fines. The Local Government Ombudsman didn’t like what they saw back in 2012 and Bexley’s internal audit team didn’t like it either when they took a belated interest last year. Maladministration was the word on their lips.

As most readers will know, Bexley and Bromley councils run a joint parking operation with the same team running both. Naturally their procedures are much the same in both boroughs and a look into Bromley’s accounts by a Bromley resident confirmed the same malpractices. However there the similarities ended.

Bexley council is audited by Grant Thornton; Bromley by Price Waterhouse Coopers. Very obviously the political control is in different hands too and if my counterpart in Bromley is to be believed that borough believes it is doing nothing wrong which contrasts rather starkly with what Bexley’s internal auditor has said.

In Bromley the external auditor is being difficult, seemingly suggesting that transgressions of the law - incentives to issue more parking tickets - don’t really matter, despite several millions of pounds being at stake.

Bexley and its auditors, while striving desperately to keep things hushed up, are so far at least taking a more reasonable line. Keeping things hushed up is very understandable, some of the facts uncovered so far are deeply disturbing, and here it is probably best to become a little vague because it is not yet inconceivable that the case could go to court.

Bexley council has as you know farmed out pretty much all its services to private enterprise. You might not always know it but the signatory on a council letter may not be that of a council employee. It happened to me once when a Capita employee accused me of falsely claiming a single occupant council tax discount.

I told her to take a jump on the grounds I had no contract with Capita and that I would not cooperate with her - and got away with that line of defence, eventually getting a letter of apology from a real Bexley council officer. This was some years before Bexley is Bonkers became a reality. Maybe I have never liked councils!

So private company employees sometimes masquerade as council employees. It may not matter too much if they are simply making excuses for no bin collections, but what if they are authorising expenditure on behalf of the council? Spending real taxpayers’ money on their own initiative.

And what if the company with which they are spending money is owned by one of their friends or even a subsidiary of their own company? Unbelievable, it would never be allowed you might say.

But it is allowed and important contracts which impinge on many lives have been placed that way - when they bear a signature at all!

Just how much corruption is allowed to exist within Bexley council?


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