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Councillors Told of £16 million Contract Overspend in Closed Meeting

Published on: 22 Sep, 2023
Updated on: 25 Sep, 2023

By Martin Giles

Guildford councillors were told in an emergency closed meeting last night that £19 million had been spent on a contract expected to cost just £3 million.

Around 30 councillors gathered, some attending online, to hear a briefing from senior councillors on the Housing Revenue Accounting issues which have resulted in two council officers being suspended and five interim employees having their contracts terminated while the council investigated their “potential involvement in respect of allegations of contract and other management failures, contract overspends, lack of financial controls and fraudulent activity”, allegations two of those terminated have told The Guildford Dragon NEWS they completely deny.

See: Allegations of Potential Fraud Involving ‘£Millions’ at GBC – Officers Suspended, Employment Contracts Terminated

The contract was for maintenance work on council houses understood to be necessary to make them compliant with applicable standards, including those relating to fire and asbestos safety.

Despite a claim in its statement yesterday that the council remains “committed to transparency”, a claim repeated today, councillors at the emergency meeting are said to have been told not to speak to anyone about it and if constituents asked questions on the subject to refer them to council officers.

In a letter seen by The Dragon to one of those suspected, Annie Righton the Joint Strategic Director (Community Wellbeing) wrote: “You must not…contact any council officer, councillor or council tenant or any other organisation connected with your work without my prior consent.”

Asked to confirm the corroborated information received by The Dragon a GBC spokesperson said: “In accordance with proper procedures, we are conducting an investigation. It’s essential to uphold the integrity of the investigation process. Therefore, at this time, we’re unable to provide any specific details or comments related to our ongoing enquiries.

“We remain committed to transparency and will release further information when it is appropriate and permissible to do so. We plan to operate as normal during this time and we’re working hard to continue providing our housing maintenance services with limited disruption. Our priority continues to be the safety and wellbeing of our tenants, and the compliance of our properties.”

Council & Lib Dem group leader Julia McShane

Council leader Julia McShane (Lib Dem, Westborough) has refused The Dragon’s request to be interviewed in order to explain and account for the council’s alleged management failures and the action against staff they have taken.

And in a further sign of organisational disturbance, following CEO Tom Horwood’s announcement of his intention to leave his post in February, another senior officer Chris Wheeler, Joint Executive Head of Environmental Services, is resigning.

It is understood that he oversaw the department in which the overspends occurred but in a council statement it is said that the resignation is not connected with the investigation.

A council spokesperson said: “After 19 years working for Guildford Borough Council, and a year as joint executive head of Environmental Services for Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils, Chris Wheeler will be leaving to take on a new position as assistant director, Environment and Commercial Services, at Reading Borough Council.

“Chris joined the council as Recycling and Cleansing manager and progressed through various roles within this department before taking on the joint executive head of service role. He will leave us at the end of December.”

Lead councillor for Planning, Environment and Climate Change at GBC, George Potter [Lib Dem, Burpham] said: “This is a wonderful opportunity for Chris to progress his career. He will be missed by his team and partners across our borough, who have appreciated his leadership and his support for the past 19 years.

“It’s been a privilege to work with Chris as portfolio holder, and I am grateful to him for having built such a strong, dedicated team to pass on to his successor. I wish Chris all the best and our loss will very much be Reading’s gain.”

“Chris was appointed to the Joint Management Committee in October 2022. This was part of the Guildford and Waverley collaboration programme. Chris leads service areas across both councils. His responsibilities include:

  • bereavement
  • green spaces, parks, countryside, trees
  • fleet operations
  • street cleaning
  • waste and recycling.

One senior councillor told The Dragon, Chris Wheeler is a very capable officer. I would not be surprised if he has been recruited elsewhere.”


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Responses to Councillors Told of £16 million Contract Overspend in Closed Meeting

  1. Keith Parkins Reply

    September 23, 2023 at 7:13 pm

    It has hit the fan and those responsible walk away, leaving others to clean up the mess.

    It is not acceptable an official telling other officials they cannot talk to councillors or telling councillors they cannot talk to anyone.

    Jobsworths are accountable to councillors, who in turn are accountable to the local community. Not the other way around.

    It is not acceptable to have meetings behind closed doors, the local community quite rightly suspects a cover up.

    A deafening silence from the leader of the council not acceptable.

    Also a deafening silence from Joss Bigmore under whose watch the alleged fraudulant activity took place. But maybe he was too busy trying to force an unwanted development on to Guildford.

    Editor’s comment: The period within which the activity being investigated took place has not been specified.

  2. Keith Parkins Reply

    September 23, 2023 at 7:20 pm

    This looks like a cover up is taking place. Meeting taking place behind closed doors. Unelected jobsworth tells people not to talk.

    This is how the Mafia operates, not an elected public body accountable to the local community.

  3. Jan Messinger Reply

    September 24, 2023 at 8:53 am

    These are paid council officers that are in question here.

    Yes, the elected councillors have a responsibility however it’s like being a school governor, you can ask questions but whether you get truthful answers is another thing.

    Don’t bring party politics into this. The elected councillors have been advised to make decisions by officers. They have done so whatever colour they stand for and don’t forget its a majority vote on decisions made.

    Someone may well have been questioning but not listen to by other elected councillors. All I know is this borough has no money and needs to make huge savings and the only loosers are the residents of Guildford borough.

    And yet Guildford has been voted the No 1 place to retire this week.

  4. Francis Reply

    September 24, 2023 at 5:37 pm

    The report doesn’t make sense as it says two different things… Chris doesn’t oversee housing so maybe you need to remove the first bit where you falsely suggest he does.

  5. Mark Stamp Reply

    September 25, 2023 at 12:53 pm

    What a surprise that Julia McShane is refusing to front up to the media. She was absent from the election campaign and has now gone missing again.

    One of the duties of a politician, especially those in leadership, is to answer questions from an the press.

    Cllr McShane needs to learn how to do this and if she can’t then the Lib Dems need to either pay for some media training or find a new leader capable of the task. It seems that she is scared of The Dragon but I’m not sure why. Although he will ask probing questions, Martin Giles is hardly an interviewer in the style of Jeremy Paxman.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      September 25, 2023 at 9:13 pm

      Perhaps the liberals selection as the future MP for Guildford could step up and show her metal instead!

  6. Neil Gooding Reply

    September 25, 2023 at 7:02 pm

    £19,000,000 on a contract expected to cost £3,000,000! What the …. is happening?

  7. John Lomas Reply

    September 26, 2023 at 1:25 pm

    I have long suspected that these large cost6 overruns, HS2 is another obvious one. are deliberately very low quotes in order to get the order.
    They should be encouraged touse realistic quotes by being offered bonuses for coming in early and BELOW budget.

  8. Frank Emery Reply

    September 28, 2023 at 11:12 am

    And those responsible will resign ot be dismissed on full pension and severance pay, no doubt.

    No wonder Guildford is in the disgusting state that it is!

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