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ROTHERHAM INQUIRY INTO POVERTY GROUP LINKS EXPOSES 'WOEFUL' PERFORMANCE

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Councillors at Rotherham MBC have apologised for their 'woeful' performance, following the publication of a critica...
Councillors at Rotherham MBC have apologised for their 'woeful' performance, following the publication of a critical report.

The Yorkshire Post (p3) reports that the internal inquiry revealed that the local authority lost track of almost£500,000 it put into the National Local Government Forum Against Poverty, which is being investigated by police.

Rotherham members admitted yesterday that important decisions had been made behind closed doors by small groups, and that no checks were made on how the money was being spent.

Rotherham's leader, Keith Billington, said the report made grim reading. 'We have found a woeful absence of proper control by elected councillors over the council's financial relationship with the National Forum. With the benefit of hindsight, I find it hard to see why we underwrote the whole of the forum's estimated budget of£450,000 for the two years covering 1994-96.

'Something went very wrong indeed and I am very angry about it. This whole episode has taught us some harsh lessons. I am absolutely determined that we learn from these and in future make sure all our relations, both internally and with external bodies, are conducted on a sound and proper basis.'

The council is to commission an independent inquiry into the way appointments to the council's community regeneration department were made.

A list of 16 recommendations has been drawn up to tighten up procedures, including the creation of a new post to keep an eye on the council's relationship with all outside bodies, and a new ruling that the council has full access to the accounts of any organisation it gives money to.

Mr Billington said inquiries were continuing and further reports would be produced, but a tough package of measures had now been agreed to tackle problems disclosed in the initial report.

Meanwhile, the forum held an emergency meeting in London yesterday to discuss its future. The forum chairman, Newcastle City Council member George Douglas, has resigned his position, and his proposed caretaker replacement, Colin Oldroyd of Wakefield MDC, has discovered that he is unable to take on the job after he consulted his authority.

A new national convener, Bob Wilkinson, from the Vale of Glamorgan Council, was appointed and it was agreed to hold urgent talks with Rotherham to discuss the£246,000 still owed to the local authority.

The Northern Echo (15 Dec, p1) reported that Darlington BC has now suspended its membership of the forum, but Stockton BC said it would continue to be a member. Newcastle City Council ceased to be a member of the forum two weeks ago.

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