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Ex-council director signed off £2.5m spend without approval

Ex-council director signed off £2.5m spend without approval

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 4:02pm 9th October 2018. (Updated at 8:46am 10th October 2018)

By Local Democracy Reporter, Richard Whitehouse

Cornwall councillors have called for better controls after a senior director was able to sign off spending of £2.5 million without getting approval.

The incident was revealed at a meeting of the council’s audit committee on Friday where councillors were told that systems have been tightened up to prevent a repeat.

Councillor David Harris asked questions about the overspend which was made by former council strategic director John Betty.

He said that the last meeting of the council’s leading Cabinet had received a report about the “unauthorised £2.5m expenditure”.

The report in question was the council’s performance report and referred to the council’s economic growth and development directorate.

It talks about the council’s investment programme which is being led by the department and includes the likes of the proposed Pydar Street redevelopment in Truro and the “new town” housing development at Threemilestone.

John Betty Cornwall Council
Former strategic director of economic growth and development, John Betty signed off a £2.5 million spend without approval

The report states: “It should be noted that the directorate is carrying an underlying risk of £2.551m relating to the development of these projects from April – September which, if not approved, will require an alternative source of funding to be identified".

Cllr Harris said at the committee meeting: “It is pretty clear that what happened here was that £2.5m of expenditure was incurred by a certain director over and above an approved budget.

“Do we have no internal controls to stop something like that happening again?”

Andy Brown, service director for resources and the council’s Section 151 officer, said that it was a “valid point to be raised” and said he was concerned and that was why he had included in a report to the Cabinet.

He added: “We have taken action around that and have done things to monitor that".

Mr Brown said he was “quite happy” to provide more information to the committee about what the council has done to improve its processes and said it was an “ongoing operation”.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Harris said directors have delegated authority to sign off expenditure but it has to be within approved budgets.

county hall cornwall council
Cornwall councillors are calling for better controls after the incident came to light at an audit committee meeting 

He said: “This £2.5m was not in the approved budget. At the time they signed the cheques there was no authority for the expenditure".

Cllr Harris said that Mr Brown had “promised” to come back with more information for councillors but said it would be provided at a behind-closed-doors training session before a meeting of the audit committee next week which will be discussing the council’s accounts for 2017/18.

Mr Betty was recently moved from his position as strategic director of economic growth and development to take up a new role as strategic commercial growth advisor at County Hall.

“A number of key investment projects which will bring more homes and jobs to Cornwall have incurred costs to date of £2.5m. These include the regeneration of the Pydar Street area of Truro to create new homes for local people, office and business space, as well as the purchase and development of land at Langarth Farm in Threemilestone, to bring forward the development of a high quality housing scheme.

“In developing business cases for each project for consideration by the Cabinet, the directorate has incurred costs to date of £2.5m. This was reported to Cabinet at its September meeting and was raised by the audit committee. Further assurance will be provided to the audit committee, demonstrating that financial controls are in place to ensure directorates spend within approved budgets. These controls and further protocols that have been put in place have been reiterated to the directorate".

Cornwall Council

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