Labour at Lancashire County are tonight under pressure from a damning report about neighbourhood wellbeing grants totalling £500,000 given out to local communities.
The Lancashire County Council report presented to today's Full Council meeting reads
"The report was considered by the Audit, Risk and Governance Committee on 29 October 2018. The Committee resolved:
"That the report by the independent auditors, 'Veritau', presents an alarming breakdown in the proper mechanisms for controlling the county council's expenditure. The report demonstrates what can happen if a county councillor adopts the roles of officers and those officers charged with the responsibility of ensuring financial probity at all times are then unable to carry out their responsibilities effectively.
The report is a damning indictment and it is of concern that, as Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, County Councillor Ali:-
- Gave instructions that all applications for a grant should be submitted only to him.
- Screened the applications for grants without any predetermined criteria for their determination.
- Did not retain a record of those projects not approved by him nor of the reasons for their exclusion.
- Changed the threshold suggested by officers for those applications requiring further checks.
- Approved grants to organisations known to him and in his own division of Nelson East and approved grants totalling £268,000 to organisations in Nelson and the surrounding area.
Committee is also concerned that in publicising the awarding of the grants, some Labour County Councillors sought to give the impression to their electorate that these grants had been given by the Labour Party and not by Lancashire County Council. Committee therefore resolves that the Chief Executive and Director of Resources be requested to:
i) Report to a future meeting of this Committee setting out the responsibilities of Lancashire County Council's officers in relation to council expenditure and outlining a protocol to be followed when grants are awarded to community groups and other voluntary bodies with a view to reporting to Full Council in due course.
ii) Report this matter to Lancashire Constabulary for investigation to determine if there has been any fraud, misconduct in public office or a criminal breach of electoral law. [During the Full Council meeting, members were advised there had not been].
iii) Submit the report to Full Council as a Part I item with any necessary redactions." In accordance with recommendation
(iii), the redacted report is now presented to Full Council at Appendix 'A'. Note that the redacted information consists of names and posts of officers of the county council below the level of Director, in line with usual practice. No other information has been redacted."
At the conclusion of the Full Council meeting, Lancashire County Council agreed the following motion "Council resolves to recognise that there was an alarming breakdown in the proper mechanisms for controlling the county council's expenditure and that the report by the independent auditors demonstrates what can happen if a county councillor adopts the role of officers and those officers charged with the responsibility of ensuring financial probity at all time when unable to carry out their responsibilities effectively."