The official audit report on MetPro out this week - the bust security company employed by Barnet Council caught out secretly filming bloggers- is one of the most damning indictments of council incompetence I have ever seen.
The council’s own internal auditors have admitted that it had no business spending £1.3m on the security firm - under various titles and guises- without carrying out basic checks or opening up the tender to competition.
Frankly some of the findings are so damning as it to be almost unbelievable. Not only were basic checks never undertaken but officials even paid out cash without noticing it was going into an unauthorised bank account from those specified in the contracts and with the wrong VAT number on them. The council is even in danger of being prosecuted by Revenue and Customs for overpayments of VAT as a result. In other cases, there is NO record of payments made to the company at all. Any small business caught doing this would find the heavy hand of the revenue turning them over.
This scandalous state of affairs would never have come to light without the combined work of Barnet’s bloggers – with particular reference to Mrs Angry’s heroic and diligent work on the Broken Barnet website. See here for her full report.( http://bitly.com/i13ngn )
As she points out the auditors’ finding are appalling: “No procurement exercise had been undertaken to appoint MetPro, in accordance with the Council’s CPR.
No written contract between the Council and MetPro could be found.
There is no record of an approval and authorisation for the use of MetPro for providing security
In the absence of a formal procurement exercise, we could not locate the following
documents/confirmation for MetPro, which the CPR require:
Financial viability of the company
Equal Opportunities Assessment
Criminal Records Bureau checks
Confirmation of company’s Public Liability Insurance arrangements
Confirmation of the company’s Health and Safety registration
Confirmation on the SIA licence status of the Company Officers
An agreed specification which outlined the service to be provided
An agreed schedule of rates for payment of invoices
A process for monitoring performance of service delivery to establish if the Council was
receiving value for money “
It goes on: “Our sample testing of invoices highlighted there had been payments of invoices in the names of MetPro Group and MetPro Emergency Response Ltd where a valid VAT number had not been quoted. However a full review of all payments of invoices should be completed to identify all instances where a valid VAT number had not been quoted and the implications discussed with HMRC. There were inappropriate changes to bank account details on SAP Financial System resulting in payments to an unauthorised vendor – MetPro Emergency Response.”
Download the full report at http://bit.ly/kqWmR0 .
There are much wider implications from this damning indictment of this flagship Easycare council.
With the government pushing councils to contract out – there must be proper supervision or literally millions of pounds could go astray. And there need to be questions asked of Barnet’s external auditors, Grant Thornton, who consistently give such an incompetent shower of officials a clean bill of health. The firm can’t be value for money if it misses such a big black hole.
Sadly the signs are in the name of localism this could proliferate. Current plans for audit reform by Grant Shapps, the local government minister, intend to encourage a light touch. This will be good news for incompetents and crooks across the nation but very bad news for council taxpayers everywhere.