WALTHAM FOREST: Council ordered to release secret report into fraud claims (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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WALTHAM FOREST: Council ordered to release secret report into fraud claims
11:24am Monday 5th July 2010 in Waltham Forest
A SECRET report into allegations of fraud against the company which used to manage schools in Waltham Forest must be made public, it has been ruled.
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has upheld a complaint by Chingford MP Iain Duncan Smith concerning the council’s refusal to release the findings of a fraud probe into private contractor EduAction.
The council between 2004 and 2006 paid the company £240,000 from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF) to help 100 vulnerable children under the Youth At Risk programme.
An investigation was launched when a number of whistleblowers claimed the pupils had not received any support.
Revelations about the mismanagement of NRF and the Better Neighbourhoods Initiative, which were designed to help the most deprived parts of the borough, eventually led to widespread financial chaos within the council being uncovered.
But the authority has refused to make the findings of its EduAction investigation public, initially claiming it would hinder the council’s own investigation into the affair.
When an investigation was launched by the Information Commissioner, the council then argued that parts of the report should be withheld on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.
It later emerged that this argument originated from EduAction itself.
The Commissioner rejected these arguments, but ruled that certain information in the report relating to EduAction employees, council officers and “peripheral individuals” should be withheld as disclosure of their involvement “would be likely to cause them significant distress”.
However, the names of those responsible for the council investigation should be revealed, it was decided.
Following the ruling on June 30, the council must make the report public within 35 days or launch an appeal.
Andrew Kilburn, who as council chief executive ordered the first independent report into the council’s mishandling of millions of pounds of taxpayers money, was recently forced out of his job.
Iain Duncan Smith said: “The public has a right to know what happened with these contracts – particularly in the wake of Andrew Kilburn’s departure.
“There are questions that need to be answered. The council cannot put this off any longer – it must now release the report so that we can get to the bottom of this.”
A police investigation into the allegations found there was a lack of evidence to prosecute EduAction.
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