Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s Financial Irregularities
Irregularities in Cllrs expenses claims and paying P & R in breach of the Council’s contract both happened in 2018/19. Dr Susan Priest was the Head of Paid Service at Folkestone & Hythe District Council after taking over the top job on the 1st April 2018.
In 2018/19 sixteen of the thirty Folkestone & Hythe District Council Councillors claimed expenses. Councillors are entitled to claim expenses incurred in the performance of an approved duty.
In June 2019 while the accounts were open for inspection by the public, the Council released the data on sixteen Cllrs who had claimed expenses. However, their published data, (the penulitmate column); which can be found ⇒ here does not agree with their accounts for 2018/19, nor does it agree with what they released while the accounts were open in May & June 2019.
Now the data the Council released while the accounts were open shows there are a number of irregularities. Taking these in alphabetical order of surname, means former Cllr Malcolm Dearden (Con) claimed £35.
Malcolm Dearden Expenses 2018-19 now it is clear that former Cllr Dearden claimed for his ICO registration. However, at the time it was the responsibility of the Cllr not the Council to pay for registration with the ICO for data protection reasons. The law changed on April 1st 2019 meaning Cllrs became exempt from paying the fee to the ICO. So why did the Council reimburse former Cllr Dearden, when they did not need to?
Former Cllr Alan Ewart James expenses for 2018/19 were £564.30 as it appears in the official publication. However, it does show former Cllr Alan Ewart James had meetings with Sanjay Sharma, the front man for the owners of Pensand House and Marlborough Court in Hythe
Cllr Clive Goddard so the official release by the Council says he received £488.25. However, what the Council released while the accounts were open show Cllr Clive Goddard claimed £850.50 in 2018/19.This is a discrepancy of £362.25.
Cllr Jennifer Hollingsbee claimed £3,053.30 in 2018/19 yet the Council says she claimed £2,999. This is a discrepancy of £54.30.
Former Cllr Len Laws claimed £335.63 in 2018/19, yet the Council say he claimed £435.18, a discrepancy of £99.55. Also Cllr Len Laws reclaimed his ICO registration fee, just like former Cllr Dearden. Again we re-iterate it was the Cllrs responsibility to pay this fee not the Council’s.
Former Cllr Rory Love OBE claimed £3,203.49 in 2018/19, yet the Council says he claimed £3,668.79, a discrepancy of £465.30. Also he reclaimed his ICO registration along with former Cllr Laws above and former Cllr Dearden. The law on this was unequivocal Cllrs paid for their ICO registration NOT the Council.
Former Cllr Michael Lyons claimed £697.60 in 2018/19, yet the Council say he received £593.15, a discrepancy of £104.45.
Cllr Ian Meyers claimed £252 in 2018/19 which agrees with what the Council published.
Former Cllr David Owen claimed £111.14 in 2018/19 which agrees with what the Council published.
Former Cllr Dick Pascoe claimed £215.55 in 2018/19 which agrees with what the Council published.
Former Cllr Paul Peacock claimed £72.50 in 2018/19, yet the Council say he claimed £81.50, a discrepancy of £9.
Former Cllr Damon Robinson claimed £38.60 in 2018/19 which agrees with what the Council published.
Former Cllr Carol Sacre claimed £9 in 2018/19 which agrees with what the Council published.
Former Cllr Russell Tillson claimed £161.84 in 2018-19 yet the Council say he claimed £166.84, a discrepancy of £5.
No data was received for former Cllr Susie Govett from the accounts, yet the Council claimed she received £37.50 in expenses for 2018/19.
So in half the case, there are irregularities in Cllrs expenses claimed in 2018/19.
None of the Cllrs have over-claimed we believe. This looks more like a Council cock up in their addition.
Back in June we published a chart of all the allowances and expenses claimed by Cllrs in 2018/19 and that came to £335,557.36. This data came from the Council’s accounts while they were open for inspection by the public. However, the Council’s accounts for 2018-19 at page 48 say that £337,000 was claimed in allowances and expenses by Councillors. £21, 000 of this was expenses according to the accounts for 18/19. Yet above the Council say that Cllrs only claimed £9,785.50, a discrepancy of £11,214.50.
And the Council claim on their website that they paid Cllrs £324,689.20 as you can see from the first chart. So we have three figures all produced and published by Folkestone & Hythe District Council.
It is known that 2018/19 was not the Council’s finest hour when it came to finances. This is made clear in the East Kent Audit Partnernship report released on the 3rd Oct 2018 heard behind closed doors. This report “established the Council’s payment processes (invoices being submitted by the contractor (P & R) direct to the councils finance departments) did not reflect the process set out in the contracts (with each of the councils). This resulted in contractor (P & R) submitting invoices which are not valid under the contract”; and being paid in full. The amount of this irregularity is in excess of £200,000.
The Council has never explained the three different published figures for the final sums for Cllrs allowances & expenses in 2018/19, which were:
Nor have they explained how the came to pay P & R in breach of their own contract.
All we do know is that Dr Susan Priest, Head of Paid Service (pictured left) and Amandeep Khroud Assistant Director of Governance, Law and Regulatory Services; and the Monitoring Officer at Folkestone & Hythe District Council, for the period 2018/19, are responsible for these irregularities.
None of these irregularities should have happened with public money. Both of them are being less than candid about how these irregularities have occurred. For this we believe they should both step down as it is clear that the Peter Principle – the cream rises until it sours – applies to them both.
The Shepwayvox Team
The Velvet Voices of Dissent
It appears that the Council in their transformation project got rid of all the competent staff who could add up. I suspect nobody will be held accountable as is the way in local government especially when it comes to looking after other peoples money. Keep up the good work and happy new year to you all.
Are these the same set of accounts signed off in July 2019 by Cllr Prater, Cllr Whybrow and Cllr Ray Field? Of course they are.
They signed off accounts where fraud has happened. Says a lot about their inability to understand or even inspect a set of accounts.
Lap dogs for the Council each of them.
Muppets that’s what they are. Paying senior staff more for their failures proves their incompetence. I note that FHDC are looking for a new s151. Is Tim Madden leaving because of the scandal around the financial irregularities with the P & R contract?
The Peter Principle also states that everyone rises to their level of incompetence. Organisations only survive if staff recognise their level of competence and do not allow themselves to be over-promoted. For example, good teachers do not automatically become good department heads and good department heads do not always succeed as head teachers.
The other points arising from your excellent article is what is the Council going to do to recover overpaid monies and have they reported any of these problems to the District Auditor?
Dr Priest and Ms Khroud should both make New Year resolutions to either do their jobs better or find alternative employment.
The finance department was seriously understaffed in 2018/19.
Requisition and purchase order procedures were hardly followed. Certain people, I won’t say who, were abusing the system controls to drive a certain pet project. Meanwhile, Finance was rudderless and without any real leadership and the Head of Finance, their cream was rising culminating in their award of a pay rise and being made an assistant director.
Temporary Staff were hired but they certainly didn’t have the skills set required to do the basics. They were hired as the Council had lost much of its corporate memory as people took retirement or voluntary redundancy because of the never ending transformation projects.
Meanwhile those capable had a field day while those who were responsible only had eyes for Princes Parade and Otterpool.
Concerns about anomalies in procurement and payment of contracts in 2017/18 and 2018/19 were raised but never dealt with. By design or ignorance, who knows?.
As for Fraud on the P & R contract, we kept paying them in 2018/19 even though we knew about the fraud back in July/Aug 18.
It was suspected by those in the Council that somebody inside EKH tipped off P & R and Bilby, leading to a large sell of shares by Phil Copolo in early Sept 2018. Coincidence? The Council’s money was always on a tip off, but there was little evidence to support this.
In my experience if the council even suspected fraud of this magnitude you SHOULD then look at one of two scenarios, either the persons responsible were suspended and put on garden leave to enable a full and fair investigation to take place without the possibility of the suspect having the opportunity to tamper with evidence, depending on the findings they are exonerated, subject to disciplinary action or the police were called in depending on circumstances, or they are left in place whilst a behind the scene investigation goes on to determine the extent of the fraud, ensure everyone involved is identified and give the police the opportunity to run a covert investigation especially if investigations lead to persons or entities outside of the authority, of course the other possibility is that those at the top covered up and stifled any investigations to avoid detection as they themselves are inextricably implicated, the obvious question is why has no one been held liable but instead been allowed to leave with a pay off and an NDA?