RMS: Police confirm probe into troubled council department
PUBLISHED: 17:35 08 January 2019 | UPDATED: 12:06 09 January 2019
Detectives have been called in to probe accusations of "serious fraud" in a council department that went at least £9million over budget.
The Metropolitan Police said it is in the “preliminary stages” of an investigation into Newham’s repairs and maintenance service (RMS) after a number of staff were accused of siphoning off taxpayers’ money.
At least 14 senior staff members have been sacked, suspended or left RMS since the huge overspend was discovered in summer 2017. Internal investigators uncovered a number of undocumented deals in the service, which is in charge of social housing and road repairs.
The Recorder has also learned that staff were claiming thousands for overtime they could not have worked and some people received bonuses worth three times their annual salary.
According to council sources at least one member of staff is alleged to have carried out work on their own private home while social housing tenants waited up to a year for simple repairs.
A damning council report stated: “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.”
But last month council officers insisted the investigation would be kept internal, leading to complaints.
RMS director of commissioning Simon Letchford, a former Met borough commander who was brought in to head up the department in September 2017, said there was “no smoking gun” which warranted calling in police.
However, at least nine councillors called on the borough’s Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, to push for police involvement and has urged the lead member for finance, Terry Paul, to quit his post.
Councillor Ken Clarke asked the Mayor to “put your money where your mouth is” and call police.
He said: “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. Accusations of serious fraud.”
He added: “It’s time to call for a police enquiry into RMS and the way officers have behaved.”
Councillor Mas Patel added: “Over the past 18 months, councillors have not been fully briefed on the scale of the allegations and the internal council investigation.
“It is also clear that some council officers have chosen to deliberately keep the full details hidden from members.”
Ms Fiaz has called an extraordinary full council meeting on January 22 to inform residents about the investigation.
A spokesman for Newham Council said: “An extraordinary full council meeting will be held January 22 to enable the council to set the record straight for the people of Newham about matters relating to the Repairs and Maintenance Service that have been raised in the local media; to note the firm progress made by the current administration and the council’s plans for future action to ensure efficient use of residents’ council tax.”
A Met Police spokesman added: “The MPS are aware of a matter relating to a financial discrepancy in Newham.
“An assessment is currently at the preliminary stages; all information is still being reviewed. Officers are working in close cooperation with London Borough of Newham.”