Evidence from Cabinet Member's Witnesses
- Meeting of Call-In Meeting, Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Thursday, 20th October 2011 6.15 p.m. (Item 37.)
Councillor Steve Foulkes Leader of the Council
Bill Norman Director of Law, HR and Asset Management
Dave green Director of Technical Services
Ian Coleman Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Finance
Geoff Bradfield Wirral UNISON
Councillor Steve Foulkes, Leader of the Council
Councillor Foulkes drew attention to the District Auditor’s criticism over the HESPE contract that the Council was not able to provide information on activity and performance to determine whether it was receiving better value for the money spent and informed that this was reason enough for her not to let the PACSPE contract. He informed that he did not want the District Auditor issuing a qualified opinion that drew attention to weaknesses identified in the arrangements for securing value for money in respect of a PACSPE contract. Councillor Foulkes considered that to let such a contract would have been an unwise decision, especially as there was less information available in respect of unit costs for the PACSPE than there had been for the HESPE.
Bill Norman, Director of Law, HR and Asset Management
The Director of Law, HR and Asset Management was asked whether, in his view, the decision taken not to award the PACSPE contract but to continue to run the service in house was reasonable or unreasonable. He stated that it was reasonable and that the comments of the District Auditor needed to be considered in the light of Anna Klonowski’s supplementary report on the Council’s Governance Arrangements: Refresh and Renew following her independent review of the Council’s response to claims made by the whistleblower, Mr Martin Morton (and others). The Corporate Governance Report had identified a number of serious happenings over recent years, namely:
(A) A Public Interest Report,
(B) Two reports under the Public Interest Disclosure Act,
(C) A “red flag” raised by the Audit Commission in relation to Adult Social Services Data,
(D) A Care Quality Commission (CQC) Report relating to issues raised by the “red flag”,
(E) Concerns raised by the Council’s external auditors, and
(F) A number of issues raised by the Director of Finance in the Council’s own corporate governance statements.
The Director told the Committee that the District Auditor’s specific qualification around value for money in relation to the HESPE contract was comparable to the issues listed above. It was a very rare occurrence for a specific qualification to be issued on a major procurement exercise. The inference he had taken from this was that there had been insufficient base information available to satisfy the District Auditor that the HESPE contract was providing value for the money the Council was spending. The Director said that it was reasonable for the Cabinet to consider whether a PACSPE contract could result in a similar outcome of a qualifying statement from the District Auditor. In the absence of quality information and unit costs the Council was unable to demonstrate that it could deliver a better Parks and Countryside Services by letting the PACSPE contract.
Ian Coleman, Deputy Chief Executive/Director of Finance
The Deputy Chief Executive/Director of Finance reported that he had not been involved in the HESPE process and had only known that the District Auditor would issue a qualifying statement in respect of it since September 2011. He was of the view that if the PACSPE contract had been let it would have resulted in the District Auditor issuing another qualifying statement.
The Committee noted an assessment of the impact of inflation over the ten years the PACSPE contract was to have run would have eliminated any possible savings made through externalisation.
Geoff Bradfield, Wirral Unison
Mr Bradfield made reference to the length of time the PACSPE process had been running. He informed that Unison had a Plan to retain the Parks and Countryside Service within the Council and deliver a first class service which would provide value for money. Unison wanted to work in partnership with the Council to obtain this end result. There were a number of elements to the Plan:
- 50 staff had left the Council through Early Voluntary Redundancy
- It would be necessary to increase the use of seasonal workers
- A policy of flexible staff working – working longer hours in summer, shorter hours in winter
- The provision of some new plant and equipment (either lease or buy)
Mr Bradfield informed that meetings had taken place with the staff concerned and there had been agreement, in principle, for a flexible working scheme. This proposal would be discussed with the management.