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Senior Directors Step Back Following New Report on Fraud & Overspend Investigation

Published on: 16 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 18 Feb, 2024

By Martin Giles

The investigation into a £18.5 million overspend and possible fraud in Guildford Council’s Housing Revenue Account took another turn this evening.

The council says it has received a report “which has identified a number of serious areas of concern” and the start date of the new Chief Executive, Pedro Wrobel, has been brought forward to Monday (February 19) “in order to provide organisational leadership with immediate effect”.

Additionally, two joint Guildford and Waverley Strategic directors have “agreed to step back on a temporary basis from their respective roles to protect the integrity of the investigation”. The two directors are Annie Righton (Community and Wellbeing), who was only appointed as the interim CEO three weeks ago, and Ian Doyle (Transformation and Governance).

Ian Doyle and Annie Righton, the two directors “stepping back”.

The two named directors were senior officers responsible for the housing maintenance service area at the time relevant contracts for work on council properties were let.

Questions are likely to be asked as to why, five months after seven officers were suspended or sacked and five months of investigation, it is only now said there are “serious areas of concern”. Opposition councillors who have been questioning how such financial mismanagement could have been allowed are being approached for comment.

Those suspended or sacked have told The Dragon that although they knew there were overspends they believed these had been implicitly, if not officially, approved to allow necessary work including work necessary for fire regulation and asbestos safety to be carried out. They vehemently deny any wrongdoing and have been complaining that no one investigating seemed interested in hearing their side of the story.

In December, Surrey Police eventually agreed, following direct questioning from The Dragon, that they were leading the fraud investigation but there is no mention of police involvement in this evening’s statement, issued unusually at 9.15pm on a Friday evening. A message to councillors was simultaneously issued catching some by surprise.

Click here to see other HRA investigation stories

Cllr Julia McShane

The Leader of Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Julia McShane  (Lib Dem, Westborough), who also holds the Housing Maintenance and Repairs portfolio, and the leader of Waverley Borough Council, Paul Follows (Lib Dem), have issued the following joint statement: “Public bodies need to be absolutely resolute in their commitment to openness, transparency and accountability for public money.

“We are determined to identify exactly what has happened in order to safeguard both councils and continue to deliver on our commitment to best value and service delivery possible for all our residents and businesses.

“We’re extremely grateful that Pedro has agreed to join us early and to Westminster City Council for releasing him to us.”

Pedro Wrobel

Pedro Wrobel, Joint Chief Executive of Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils from Monday February 19, said: “When it comes to public money, nothing is more important than propriety and value. All monies should be used to deliver the best possible services for our residents and businesses.

“I will be working with officers, councillors, external investigators and auditors to get to the bottom of these issues and account for every penny.  

“I will ensure the organisation has the right systems in place to safeguard the public’s money, and will take robust action where necessary.”

Surrey County Council corporate director Michael Coughlin is being seconded to provide additional support, capacity and resilience to the councils starting on Monday, February 19.

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Responses to Senior Directors Step Back Following New Report on Fraud & Overspend Investigation

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    February 17, 2024 at 5:44 am

    One has to ask why Cllr McShane is still in post, given this alleged fraud took place on her watch. The decent thing would be to step aside, and recuse herself from any involvement in the investigation or the housing portfolio.

  2. RWL Davies Reply

    February 17, 2024 at 7:48 am

    The shambles continues.

  3. H Trevor Jones Reply

    February 17, 2024 at 7:34 pm

    Presumably Cllr Julia McShane is still “in post” because she was democratically elected by her ward constituents and there’s been no subsequent election to elect anyone else in her place, and as far as is known she herself has done nothing actually wrong, as opposed to perhaps making errors of judgement.

    But if there’s anyone (of any party) more capable to take over the Housing Maintenance and Repairs portfolio, I hope Cllr Julia McShane would stand aside to allow the appointment of said person in her place. (I’ve no idea whether or not there is such a person.)

    Editors note: Councillors are elected by the voters in their ward. Council leaders are then elected by the elected councillors. By convention, the leader of the largest political group is usually elected unopposed, as was Cllr McShane. If the Lib Dem group wished to change its leader through an internal vote there would still need to be a formal vote by the whole council which the Lib Dems should carry because of their majority in the unlikely event of all oppstion members voting against.

    The appointment of Executive members or “portfolio holders is entirely in the gift of the council leader who can select any member from any party but where a party has an overall majority he or she has in practice at GBC only selected from his or her own party group.

  4. Anthony Brown Reply

    February 17, 2024 at 8:04 pm

    This is an extraordinary statement from the leader of the Lib Dem run Guildford Council – Clr Julia McShane. Surely as leader of the council it is she who should be “stepping back”?

    It seems she is trying to distance herself from what was her responsibility.

    Guildford residents will or should not be fooled by this attempt at obfuscation and incompetence of this Lib Dem council over the last five years and the damage being inflicted on Guildford and its residents. It is very sad to see.

  5. Brian Creese Reply

    February 19, 2024 at 1:41 pm

    I would like to congratulate the Guildford Dragon in getting this information out as quickly as they did. A message sent out late on a Friday night (why we wonder?) was all ready for us to read by Saturday breakfast. It goes to show what a brilliant job Martin Giles and his team do in keeping us all up to date with what is happening in our town.

    Brian Creese, former chair of Guildford Labour

  6. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    February 22, 2024 at 1:12 pm

    There has not been any reaction to my proposal for an alternative solution to accommodating safer cycle lanes and pedestrian footways in London Road.

    The proposal for a southbound lane to the A3 from Clay Lane is an essential part of my alternative London Road solution. It also provides access to southbound A3 and improved access from Burpham to central Guildford, Ladymead Business Park, the hospital and the University areas.

    Within the one-way northbound between Boxgrove and George Abbott roundabouts, the Ambulance Station will continue to have its southbound exit. At the northern end access down to the tyre place would continue from the roundabout but all exiting would turn right back to the roundabout.

    I hope SCC would explore this option before taking this scheme forward. Maybe it is a bit unusual and therefore needs time for further consideration and consultation.

    • Bibhas Neogi Reply

      February 24, 2024 at 5:07 pm

      Sorry, this comment was meant for the Report ‘Don’t Bow to Naysayers’ Say Cycling Campaigners’.

  7. Jon Hallam Reply

    March 1, 2024 at 9:53 am

    The disgusting farce rolls on and on, while the taxpayer’s hard earned cash disappears never to be seen again, and Guildford goes from worse to even worse. And another consultant appointed to oversee the car-crash on an eye-watering salary and package. How did it come to this?

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