Saturday, 14 March 2009

Misuse of public funds

The taxpayers of Barnet have been exposed to a £292 Million risk due to Barnet Council not following it's own agreed policy. The Council leader Mike Freer made this 100% clear in his statement this week. He stated "Despite previous assurances from Barnet Council Officers that correct treasury management controls were applied to Icelandic deposits, it has now come to light that in fact this was not the case. On Monday 9th March I was presented with a scrutiny working group report which makes clear that officers did not in fact follow the correct procedures despite having repeatedly told me both verbally and in writing that they had done so."

Mike Freer went on to say "An external investigation will be carried out to identify why our external auditors did not pick up these issues in their previous audit work. I would like however to reassure residents that at this point the Icelandic deposits remain frozen by the administrators of the two banks involved and discussions around the return of this money remain positive and ongoing".

Hang on a second. He's just clearly stated that public funds (ie our money) has been misused. Not only that, but a systematic cover up has taken place over a period of nearly six months. He says that this cover up is documented in writing.

It could not possibly be more clear. Surely there has been a conspiracy to cover up malpractice within Barnet Council? If this is the case, Mike Freer should not have called external auditors, he should have called the Police. Mike Freer states that "officers" (plural) were involved. This surely means that there has been collusion in the process. I am prepared to take at face value Mike Freer's statement that he was unaware of this, until alerted by the scrutiny committee.

I call on Mike Freer to ask the Police to investigate this. If he won't then maybe someone could inform me of the procedure of how I could. If I have got this wrong and Mike hasn't said there has bee financial malpractise or a cover up by officials please let me know ASAP because from where I am sitting it looks highly suspicious to me. The amounts are huge and this looks as if it will hurt every taxpayer in Barnet. As such, surely the Police should be involved


Anonymous said...

I'm quite puzzled by Mike Freer's assertion about the apparent 'clarity' of the Constitution. He claims that it is clear that the Cabinet Resources Committee (CRC) just make the policy and leaves it to the Officers to go run things. My reading of the Constitution is different and seems to me to place a duty on the CRC to actively monitor how this policy is running.

Having served for four years on the Audit Committee and its predecessor, I know that non-Executive Councillors are used to asking questions of the Officers and probing hard if they have concerns at Committee. Unfortunately the prevailing mood amongst Cabinet Members is that at their Committees you don't probe or question, you do that in private and the formal meetings are more for show.

I once heard of the Chief Executive complaining that a Cabinet Member asked a question of one of the Officers at full Cabinet that they hadn't raised at the private Cabinet meeting previously. How outrageous!

I am concerned that no-one is really questioning how the CRC members have acted during this period. Why did they not push their Chairman more? Will they be apologising, just as Cameron has bravely done today, for not challenging Mike Freer's consensus over this lending policy?

The CRC is meant to be the guardian of the Council Tax payers money, not the Officers. I think it would have been worth their time to spend a good time scouring the £300 million of investments. But I guess that would be very difficult when the Chairman had never even asked to see a list of them.

How could they ensure policy was being followed when they never even knew where the money was being invested. Why are CRC members not more furious at their Chairman? They should be as I fear soon they will be in they spotlight.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

There needs to be an urgent investigation into Mike Freer’s claim that he was misled. We need to know whether any officers deliberately falsified records or covered up their tracks to deceive councillors into believing that the rules were being complied with. If this happened, then criminal proceedings should be considered.

But if this transpires to be a case where councillors either did not read reports they were given or simply turned a blind eye to what officers were doing, then it is the councillors who will have to fall on their sword.

We will not know the answers until there has been an independent inquiry.