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Councillors told “no smoking gun” by RMS commissioning chief

PUBLISHED: 17:08 21 December 2018 | UPDATED: 20:59 21 December 2018

The council offices at Newham Dockside. Picture: Ken Mears

The council offices at Newham Dockside. Picture: Ken Mears

Archant

The decision not to bring police in to investigate allegations of serious fraud in an council department which overspent by £9million has been branded “abysmal”.

In a heated exchange on Monday, Newham’s Labour councillors called each other “incompetent” over the ongoing investigation into the borough’s repairs and maintenance service (RMS), which is responsible for social housing, gas and highway repairs.

Internal investigators uncovered “a number of undocumented deals” in the service and found staff had allegedly used sub-contractors at much higher than expected rates to carry out work.

“There has been significant mismanagement at the highest level within RMS and a culture has developed where some staff have perceived themselves as operating as a separate entity,” a damning council report states.

But Simon Letchford, a former Met borough commander who was brought in as director of commissioning at RMS in September 2017, said there was “no smoking gun” which warranted calling in detectives.

Councillor Ken Clark told Newham’s budget working party: “I’m concerned about the impact RMS is going to have on our budget. We have had a systematic failure of senior management over a long period of time.

“The service is still not fit for purpose. It has been out of control. We should not have [council] officers investigating themselves. The police should have been brought in. It has been abysmal. I still call for a police enquiry.”

But his fellow Labour councillor John Gray blamed the former administration, in which Cllr Clark served as deputy mayor, for the department’s alleged failure.

“The repairs service is not fit for purpose at the moment,” he said. “We are trying to make up for the disgraceful shambles that the service was left in.

“What we inherited was staggering incompetence at a phenomenal level. I have never seen such incompetence by the former administration. You should apologise to the people of Newham.”

At a meeting last week Mr Letchford confirmed that the council’s investigation had found “no hard evidence”.

“I won’t shy away from criminal charges,” he told councillors. “But there was not enough evidence.

“There was no smoking gun as it were. There have been allegations made but there is not hard evidence.”

Newham’s mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said there will be a major announcement regarding the service in the New Year.

“It is regretful that this was allowed to happen,” she said.

“The legal stuff is being sorted out and there will be a major announcement in the New Year.”

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