Council cheats hunted down

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INVESTIGATORS have exposed a range of alleged fraud and misdemeanours committed by Wigan Council staff.

The authority’s annual Internal Audit Report for 2011/12, leaked to the Wigan Observer, uncovered numerous instances of wrong-doing.

They have variously led to town hall employees being ordered to re-pay cash, some have been demoted while others have been sacked. But in a report due to be considered soon by councillors, chief internal auditor Martin Kenyon said that the thoroughness of the operation shows how committed the council is to managing its affairs and seeks to build on the “solid foundations” of previous external assessments.

And he says that Wigan’s internal audit service is now recognised for providing leadership and “best practice” guidance to other local authorities both regionally and nationally.

Several examples of rule breaches are cited:

A surveillance operation found that a council waste collection operative was collecting unauthorised waste and undertaking other unauthorised activities while at work. He was dismissed in June 2011 and a council panel rejected his appeal when it was heard in October. However, he was later conditionally offered re-engagement to a lower graded job.

A nursery headteacher arranged some generous team-building activities for staff. But after an investigation by auditors the chair of governors has now been instructed that the expenditure wasn’t authorised and the head must personally reimburse the school’s delegated budget to the tune of £1,917 to cover the costs.

A Highways Direct Labour Organisation worker received a final warning from bosses after a court judgement ruled that his personal injury claim submitted against the council was “unreliable”. While the council’s panel accepted that an injury had been sustained on council duties it was ruled that the employee had “deliberately falsified” documents to support the claim.

Mr Kenyon concludes that there is a wealth of evidence to show that the council operates an “effective overall internal control environment” and will report this to the ruling Cabinet late next month.

He said: “The reviews have also identified area for further development and work will continue to focus on ensuring managers take full ownership of their governance arrangements, particularly in areas such as demonstrating value for money, data security, quality and performance management and operations.”

Audit reviews and support work have covered the council’s core financial systems, IT security issues, schools’ financial management arrangements, operational areas, capital and revenue contracts, fraud and irregularity investigations.