WALTHAM FOREST: Cabinet "broke the law" over £2.5m contract (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Leaked secret document reveals investigators found ruling councillors knowingly broke EU law
RULING councillors deliberately broke the law over a £2.5 million contract, it has emerged.
A confidential 2006 report by council fraud investigators found council cabinet members, some of whom are still in place, were aware a decision to extend a recycling collection agreement with company ECT contravened EU legislation.
Cabinet waived rules regarding the extension, which it is entitled to do in exceptional circumstances, but investigators found no justification for the move.
The report states: “The inability to waive EU procurement rules was drawn to the attention of cabinet in the proposal.
“When rules are broken for no apparent reason or necessity, there is little motivation for others to abide by them.
“It is difficult to understand how (the council) expects to uphold the law when its own cabinet deliberately breaks it.”
Council leader Chris Robbins, former leader Clyde Loakes and current cabinet members Liaquat Ali and Keith Rayner were all present at the meeting.
The report also states that senior council officer Keith Weir deliberately misled the authority in pushing for the extension.
Rather than include the warning of legal risk to the authority in the main body of his report to cabinet, he buried it in an unpublished appendix.
Mr Weir said he pushed for the 12-month extension “because tendering processes had been overlooked”.
But this is described in the report as “very difficult to believe”.
The council’s former head of procurement, Henry Swan, had previously agreed to a six-month extension as a compromise.
But the report states that, to the surprise of Mr Swann and the authority’s corporate solicitor, Mr Weir’s 12-month extension proposal still went to cabinet.
The proposal is also described as “poorly justified”.
“A request for a bank loan for £20k would require more justification than this,” investigators conclude.
The findings informed the recent independent investigation into the long-term mismanagement of taxpayers’ money by the authority.
But it has been kept secret after the council decided releasing it would not be in the public interest.
The independent report by Sir Peter Rogers found rules to prevent fraud were regularly ignored over a number of years and those responsible were not held to account.
The council declined to answer a number of questions regarding the report, but released the following statement: "We can confirm the recommendations of this confidential report were addressed after it was published in 2006. The Council cannot comment on the details of confidential documents.
‘The Chief Executive commissioned an Independent Panel in 2009 to deal with concerns about the management of contracts. In December 2009 the Panel published it's final report and made a series of far reaching recommendations. The council accepted the findings and recommendations of the report in full.
"We are working hard to implement the recommendations of the Independent Panel in order to restore confidence in Council’s ability to procure and manage contracts and improve services for our residents."
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