‘Fraud‘ says The local government transparency code 2015 (the Code), ‘can thrive where decisions are not open to scrutiny and details of spending, contracts and service provision are hidden from view.‘
At paragraph 32 of the code it states:
Local authorities must also publish details of any contract, commissioned activity, purchase order, framework agreement and any other legally enforceable agreement with a value that exceeds £5,000*
* The threshold should be, where possible, the net amount excluding recoverable Value Added Tax.
Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s payment to suppliers is always the gross amount so one must minus 20%, so any payment above £6,000 should effectively have a contract published, if it is to comply with the code.
Given Charlotte Spendley, the Council’s statutory s151 officer (responsible for the money) made it clear last Wednesday 8 June, at the Audit & Governance Committee she was to commission a far reaching contract and payment investigation, we’d thought in the interest of kindness we’d give her, and whoever is going to undertake this mammoth piece of work, a starter for ten.
Between April 1 2019 and 31 March 2022, Shepway Building Contractors received the sum of £400,197, across forty four payments above the value of £6,000 (incl VAT), according to the council’s payment to supplier data. Yet according to the council’s contract register not a single contract exists, which of course breaches the Code and the council’s contract standing orders as per the constitution.
These payments span the departments Governance, Law & Regulatory Services led by Assistant Director, Amandeep Khroud, the Council’s solicitor, and Housing, led by Corporate Director, Andy Blaszkowicz
When the Council’s own Solicitor & her team, cannot and does not follow the code, or place contracts on the register, how can she be “trusted to ends of the earth“?
Simply put, neither she or her team can be trusted, given the publicly available data. She is failing to safeguard the council’s reputation from any implication of dishonesty or corruption. The same goes for Andy Blaszkowicz
In the financial year 2021/22, Capel Groundworks Ltd (CGL) have had thirteen payments in excess of £6,000, according to the Council’s data, yet not a single contract for CGL exists on the contract register, not one. CGL have received £131,508 pounds, yet no contracts exist in the public domain, as they must.
Most, but not all payments, are made under the Housing Revenue Account, which falls under the remit of Andy Blaszkowicz. He is the Corporate Director responsible for Housing & Operations, (Salary in 2020/21 – £105,936), so how is he missing the fact that his staff are placing contracts above £5,000 yet not publishing the contract details, as he and his team must by law and the constitution?
That’s just £532,000, worth of work where no contracts show on the contract register, in breach of the code, and the council’s contract standing orders.
Between April 1 2019 and March 31 2022, BNP Paribas Real Estate Advisory & Property won one contract, according to the contract register. It began on the 15 June 2020, and ended on Dec 31 2020. It had a value of £20,000, with no extensions permissible. This contract was for the Otterpool Park Business Plan.
The payment data shows BNP Paribas Real Estate Advisory & Property for the period above, were paid £127,114, by the strategic development department which falls under the remit of the Head of Paid Service & Chief Executive, Dr Susan Priest, as she appears to be responsible for strategic and corporate leadership.
Dr Priest (pictured) must discharge her responsibilities as Head of Paid Service & Chief Exec, in accordance with the provisions of the Local Government & Housing Act 1989, and the Council’s Constitution. But it is clear, under her leadership the council’s is not abiding by the consitution, the contract standing orders and the financial procedure rules.
The Shepway Vox Team have taken just three companies who between them have been paid across 64 payments amounting to £658,771. We have looked at the rest of the data between April 1 2019 & March 31 2022, and we have found close to £3.5m worth of payments made without any contracts in place.
Strange how both internal and external auditors didn’t spot this, especially after a review of Contract Standing
Orders by East Kent Audit Partnership (internal auditor) gave them a reasonable assurance. We have our concerns.
Will those who are charged with any investigation be allowed to question, Amandeep Khroud, Andy Blaszkowicz & the Chief Exec, Dr Priest? Those charged with any investigation should not be anyone inside the council, otherwise the public may strongly suspect there has been a whitewash and a possible cover up.
The Council must not, nor should the internal or external auditors mark the council’s homework, as they are too closely associated with them.
Now of course, all those responsible are allegedly deemed competent, however we’d have to disagree, as it would appear they cannot follow the processes and procedures set out in the constitution, or the Transparency code 2015. To us it appears the Peter Principle is alive and well inside Folkestone & Hythe District Council.
The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organisational hierarchies, such as that of our council, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach a level of respective incompetence. As always we’ll leave you to decide if those council officer’s named, have been promoted to their level of incompetence.
The inclusion of the companies mentioned in the this blog post is not intended to suggest or imply that they have engaged in illegal or improper conduct.
The Shepway Vox Team
Being Voxatious is NOT a Crime