Fringe Box



Sacked Contractors Complain of Slow Progress in GBC Investigation into ‘£16m’ Overspend

Published on: 4 Dec, 2023
Updated on: 4 Dec, 2023

By Martin Giles

Interim council officers who had their contracts cancelled as part of a GBC investigation into a multi-million-pound overspend of a Housing Revenue Account and possible fraud are continuing to vigorously deny any wrongdoing  and say their lawyers are preparing a defamation case against the council.

Two of the former interim officers have spoken to The Guildford Dragon NEWS. Their identities are known to The Dragon but their lawyers did not want them named. They say that two council officers have been suspended and five contractors, including them, have had their contracts cancelled. All are understood to have worked in the GBC department that dealt with the maintenance of council houses.

They are complaining that nearly three months since the investigation commenced on September 12, none of the seven has been questioned by the investigator despite their offers to give information.

Text message received by one of the suspended/sacked officers in response to their offer of giving information.

One of the former contractors told The Dragon: “Those suspended or dismissed have all offered, many times, to answer any questions but have never been approached or asked to answer any.”

The suspensions and sudden contract terminations have, he said: “caused financial and health issues to some resulting in doctors issuing medication for depression”.

“I have made an offer to attend any council meeting or a Scrutiny Committee meeting and answer any questions anyone has but that offer has also not been taken up.”

He also claims that the overspending was known about but as the compliance work was necessary and important, and there was sufficient money in the ring-fenced Housing Revenue Account, it was, at least tacitly, approved by managers senior to him.

Additionally, the former interim officer says that he reported invoices being raised and paid to the value of £300,000 for work that had not been completed.

Asked why those suspended or dismissed have not been interviewed by the investigator, GBC would only say: “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.”

Conservative group leader Philip Brooker

But the leader of the opposition and Conservative group at GBC has challenged the council’s reluctance to share information. In a letter to The Dragon Cllr Philip Brooker wrote: “The lack of transparency by Guildford Borough Council in this matter is shocking.

See: The Council Should Come Clean

“There are many ‘facts’ which the public is entitled to know and that could be disclosed without jeopardy to the ongoing investigations. This council must stop ‘kicking the can down the road’ and come clean with the residents of Guildford.”

Other opposition councillors have been more sympathetic with the council’s position, stating their belief, off the record, that the normally risk-averse council officers are unlikely to have taken the action they did without good evidence.

Councillors were told in a closed meeting in September of a £16 million overspend. GBC has not specified the amount publicly but says: “The issue is an overspend on a particular contract, not the overall quantum of expenditure.”

The case has been referred to Surrey Police. A spokesperson for GBC said: “We have contacted the police in relation to this matter. We are working with them to better understand the nature and scale of the circumstances involved and cannot comment any further at this time. We will provide an update as soon as it is appropriate and permissible to do so.”

Surrey Police have confirmed they are involved but have not answered questions about who is the lead agency or whether anyone has been arrested in connection to the investigation.

The two whose contracts have been terminated and have spoken to The Dragon claim that work to bring council houses up to standard and compliant with fire and asbestos safety regulations has been interrupted by the investigations.

Asked to confirm that this is true GBC said: “To ensure good governance we are currently undertaking an independent audit of completed works on our properties. We are concentrating on safety and compliance works and we have an action plan to put interim contracts in place to ensure works can continue.

“We have no reason to think our properties are not compliant but undertaking these audits with independent experts will make sure of this. This audit will also be used to inform next year’s programme of works and ensure continued compliance.”

No investigation completion date has been announced. Asked when it was expected GBC would only say: “We remain committed to transparency and will release further information when it is appropriate and legally permissible to do so.”

As for the cost of the investigation, the council spokesperson said: “There will be a number of costs associated with investigation, part of which may be chargeable to the Housing Revenue Account, for example the interim and agency staff covering vacant posts. The remaining costs will need to be met from the General Fund and this has been reflected in the Period 7 budget monitoring for the council.

“To date, additional costs are limited to the external investigation team from Reigate & Banstead, forensic analysis costs, legal advice from legal counsel and external solicitors. The final costs of this will be dependent upon the volume of legal advice sought. This is currently estimated to be between £50,000 to £100,000.

“The other main costs will be for the Internal Governance Review, provided through external experts, and for the dedicated admin support for this work. This is estimated to be between £200-£250k, but is likely to include a wider governance review across other service areas in the council.

“Overall total costs chargeable to the General Fund are therefore estimated to be between £250k and £350k.”

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Responses to Sacked Contractors Complain of Slow Progress in GBC Investigation into ‘£16m’ Overspend

  1. Wayne Smith Reply

    December 4, 2023 at 5:51 pm

    This borough council beggars belief. How did they even get to a position of a £16 million overspend before they pulled the plug?
    Were there no alarm bells at even a £1 million overspend?

    There was also the recent £10 million accounting error. It all suggests no basic policy and procedures in place for officers to follow and no oversight of what they do.

    That wouldn’t be the case in a commercial business where staff are held accountable for their actions.

    Three months of internal investigation and the residents of Guildford are on the hook for upwards of £350,000 and we still haven’t an inkling of what’s been going on.

    What an utter shambles.

  2. Peta Malthouse Reply

    December 6, 2023 at 7:07 pm

    I understand part of the problem relates to the fact that austerity depleted the highly experienced and professional staff employed in most local authorities. I further understand that a huge contract to bring council homes into line with recent legislation meant that the remaining staff could not manage it and others were subcontracted to oversee it.In my view a disaster waiting to happen due to flawed management structures..

  3. Tony Edwards Reply

    December 21, 2023 at 4:15 pm

    Just a tiny peek under the lid of the cess-pit that is GBC. Its doings would shame a third world dictatorship. And all on the public purse.

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