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Newham Council ‘complacent’ over potential issues on how public money is spent, report finds

PUBLISHED: 07:00 21 July 2020

The findings of an independent review into financial controls at Newham Council have been published. Picture: Ken Mears

The findings of an independent review into financial controls at Newham Council have been published. Picture: Ken Mears

Archant

The council’s approach to potential issues around spending has been described as “complacent” even after a scandal at its repairs and maintenance service, a report finds.

Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz vowed to accelerate efforts to clean up the council. Picture: Marianne Chua PhotographyNewham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz vowed to accelerate efforts to clean up the council. Picture: Marianne Chua Photography

An independent commission set up to review finance failings under the town hall’s previous administration, chaired by local government finance expert Chris Buss, commented on the issue in a report out last week.

It states: “The issues in RMS [the council’s repairs and maintenance service] appear to have been dealt with in isolation with no views as to whether similar control issues exist in other parts of the council.

“This is a complacent approach considering the scale of the failure over internal control on RMS.”

In December, 2018 the Recorder revealed a number of allegations behind an £8.7million overspend in the highways division of Newham Council’s RMS during 2017/18.

But the commission report states “issues may exist” elsewhere in the council including people getting paid to work overtime but not actually working.

The report authors understand Newham is carrying out an overtime audit, but suggest the same is done for other pay extras.

Among its findings, the commission highlighted a council where things got done, but where sticking to financial controls didn’t always happen.

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Newham is identified as an organisation that lacked public accountability and didn’t have the diligence required to safeguard public money.

Agendas and interviews with councillors and staff at the council when Sir Robin Wales was mayor led the commission to conclude aspects of the decision-making process “lacked” the “transparency” aimed at by current mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz.

Ms Fiaz, welcoming the report, said: “When I stepped into office, I promised I would clean up this council and make it more open and transparent.

“The independent commission’s report shows we still have a long way to go. I am putting this council on notice that it has got to clean up.”

She added recommendations over financial and internal controls would be brought in faster.

The report questioned Newham’s past ability to balance its budget and what that meant for a current plan based on making £24million savings in 2020/21.

Its authors found services had not been pushed to save money in the past.

There was no evidence of cronyism in the council, but Newham should consider reviewing its recruitment arrangements for temporary staff, the report notes.

In the last four years, only 15 cases of staff being pulled up over their performance out of a total workforce of 3,500 is described in the report as “disproportionately low” and reflects a “non-compliance culture”.


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