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CRITICAL EXTERNAL AUDIT REPORT ON LINCOLNSHIRE CC PUBLISHED

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Lincolnshire CC today published a Public Interest Report produced after a two year investigation into the county co...
Lincolnshire CC today published a Public Interest Report produced after a two year investigation into the county council by its external auditors KPMG. Until today the document has remained confidential under Section 49 of the Audit Commission Act 1998.

Council chairman Heather Judge, said: 'I read the report with a sense of dismay and was shocked and saddened by its contents. Whilst many members of the county council had some understanding of what was going on, the vast majority were not fully aware of all the facts. It is the responsibility of all 77 members of the council to face up to these problems and act decisively. I can assure you we will.'

The detailed investigations within the KPMG Public Interest Report focus on:

- The culture

- Relationships between senior officers and certain members

- Misuse of delegated authority

- Improper pressure and misuse of power in staffing matters

- Officer advice/member responsibility

- Misuse of severance powers

- Unlawful payments

KPMG have detailed the task ahead, and the county council needs to ensure that the following safeguards are in place:

- Members must be aware of and act in accordance with their duties and responsibilities, the provisions of the National Code of Conduct and the Members' Handbook.

- The council must have access to professional advice of high quality, proffered independently and without fear of consequence. In particular, officers must be confident that unpopular advice will not lead to retaliatory action on the part of members.

- The monitoring officer must act in a robust and fearless manner.

- Decisions must be taken at the appropriate level, that is, depending on its importance, by the council, the executive (when introduced), a committee or sub-committee of the council or by an appropriate officer under delegated powers.

- Severance and other powers must only be used for the purposes of which parliament conferred those powers.

KPMG acknowledge in the report:

'The council is renowned as an innovative local authority which provides many highly regarded services to its local people. I am of the view that the great majority of the council's workings remain untouched by the problems described here. It would be wrong therefore to see this report as a condemnation of the overall workings of this authority.'

Edward Bliss, chairman of the audit review committee set up in the wake of the enquiries, said that the council was already taking robust steps, commenting: 'We have appointed Rodney Brooke, a person of national standing, to help us find a new county secretary and solicitor and to carry out an ethical governance audit. The findings of that audit will be made public. We now have a powerful standards committee with no single party in control, with an independent chairman, Peter Joyce.

'My committee has recommended an Acton Plan which will be discussed at an all-member workshop early next week. We can and we will act quickly. I look forward to working with all political groups on this issue'

Council chief executive David Bowles, who the auditors commented has 'sought to raise standards of ethics and probity within the council' said:

'I am pleased that KPMG have gone out of their way to make it clear that this is not a condemnation of the workings of the whole council. In my experience, having spent over 20 years in local government working for many councils, the standards of conduct and behaviour by the overwhelming majority of members here is as good, if not better, than elsewhere.

'Elected members here work particularly hard for their constituents for which they get little praise or credit. I now sense that there is a real commitment from all political groups to learn these hard lessons and a determination to get the Action Plan in place. However it is not only a matter for members; there will soon be a new national officer code of conduct which we will implement as soon as possible. We do have the capacity to put these matters behind us quickly and create a better organisation as a result.'

The full report is available here .

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