Wanted! Armchair auditors to check the accounts for H&F Council

A group called Peoples’ Audit has published a devastating analysis of the accounts of Lambeth Council:

“A group of Lambeth residents, including finance professionals and experienced campaigners, had a month in the summer of 2016 to request accounts, contracts, invoices and correspondence relating to expenditure. They supplemented this with Freedom of Information Requests and Members’ Enquiries by a councillor. “

They found:

“Evidence of extensive financial mismanagement and a systemic lack of financial governance costing millions of pounds of public money, discovered by ‘armchair auditors’ using citizens’ powers under the Local Audit and Accountability Act.”

Among the (many) examples detailed in the report:

  • Overpaying building contractors for work on council estates. In a sample of three blocks we checked on the Wyvil Estate in Vauxhall, Lambeth Council paid its contractors for more than twice the number of concrete repairs that were actually carried out. Lambeth paying an average £4,000 for kitchen replacements, priced under its Decent Homes contracts at £2,000-3,000. Contractors for repairs at Cressingham Gardens Estate charging for works that have not been carried out; repeat instances of the same repair; and instances of overcharging.
  • “Industrial scale” ignoring of rules on competitive tendering.
  • Numerous examples of expenditure being understated on Lambeth Council’s website, when compared with actual invoices, including £3.2m paid to Transport Trading Ltd (a wholly owned subsidiary of TfL)
  • Costs of Lambeth’s controversial project to refurbish the town hall have more than doubled from the £50m the council claimed in 2012 and is now estimated at £104m.  Part of the shortfall in funding appears to be coming from a raid on council tenants’ rent ring-fenced for repairs to their homes (Housing Revenue Account).  Little evidence to back up Lambeth’s claim that the development will save £4.5m a year.

I would hope that Hammersmith and Fulham Council finances are not in quite such a bad state. But are there are any retired auditors or accountants out there who would be willing to check? You don’t to have professional qualifications but I guess some ability to understand a balance sheet would be an advantage.

They are entitled to do so at the moment for the 2016/17 accounts. The Audit Public Notice says:

 “From 3 July 2017 to 11 August 2017 between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, any persons interested may inspect the accounts of the Council for the year ended 31 March 2017.”

I have also written to the Council to say:

“I realise this is the statutory minimum period. But if any residents wished to inspect these documents after August 11th is that a request that the Council would be willing to show any flexibility in being willing to accommodate?”

The Council should welcome scrutiny to ensure good value for money. Anyone interested in helping with this project please email me on harry.phibbs@gmail.com

Come on all you Spreadsheet Phils (and Philippas) out there…

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