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Bonkers Blog February 2016

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17 February (Part 2) - Bexley’s finances. Dishonest? Certainly, but by their standards it isn’t a breach of the law

I do wonder whether if it is worth wasting an evening on attending the Audit Committee, if anything very interesting is due for discussion they throw the public out so that their dodgy deals remain secret, however Chairman Councillor Joe Pollard always does so very nicely. The same happened last night but the effort of attending was not entirely wasted.
The auditors were there as usual but Sue Exton from Grant Thornton, Bexley’s principal auditor, has retired and given that one of her last decisions was to judge some very funny business in Bexley to be lawful she is probably rather relieved not to have to show her face publicly here again.

ObjectionThe decision not to refer Bexley Council’s dubious practices to court refers to the discovery that Bexley had more than one parking contract, one to keep their Legal Department happy and another to please the contractor through the provision of illegal incentives for issuing extra tickets.

Back in 2014 I thought it wise not to reveal how big the incentive was but now that the Auditor has judged everything to be hunky-dory and no more can be done about it, it is probably safe to say that it was £4.41 per ticket.

Then there was the application of a whole host of extra and illegal charges by Bexley’s bailiffs. Huge number of people were systematically defrauded and it is not as though Bexley Council didn't know about. David Hogan, Bexley’s Internal Auditor, and to his credit, condemned the practice absolutely, saying over and over again it was ‘misconduct’.

We are led to believe that the practices have ceased now, four years after it was brought to Bexley’s attention by the Local Government Ombudsman. No heads rolled and very little of the money wrongly extorted was returned to the innocent victims.

I should perhaps declare an interest. The objector was me and it will have cost rather a lot of money in extra auditor's fees to prove what most people already knew. That Bexley Council is dishonest and the direction must have been set at the very top.

Not much else went on at the Audit meeting in public, I doubt the Tory members know anything about finance, one of them asked what the auditor's fee was. For 2014/15 it was printed in their report. £159,153. 2013/14 is as yet unknown.

For probing questions one has to rely on the Labour members. Councillor Daniel Francis (Belvedere) had cleverly linked an item from last week’s Places Scrutiny meeting with the official statement on progress made towards achieving the Strategy 2018 budget savings.

The latter said that the money raised by charging for parking in Danson Park and Hall Place was on course to be achieved in full. Similarly the money raised by charging the disabled for use of street parking bays was safely in the bag. In fact Deputy Director Bryce-Smith had said that no new parking revenue had been raised in Danson Park or Hall Place and Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer said he had no intention of authorising charges for disabled bays outside residents' houses.

Two bits of the financial progress report are clearly nonsense and Councillor Francis asked how many more mistakes like that there might be. The Deputy Director of Finance didn't know.

Expertise on Contract and Parking Law kindly provided by NotoMob.


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