An internal audit has revealed a worrying level of financial mismanagement within Bristol City Council (BCC). It presents a grim picture of taxpayers’ money being exploited both within and outside the council. Some £220,000 has been wasted in bills being paid twice. A council employee and a contractor have each been sentenced to prison for eight months for dishonest acts against the council. Overall, the council’s performance and level of risk has been put at ‘Of concern’.
Bristol council’s capital accounting, bank reconciliation, cheque control and payroll system have all been criticised for being at moderate risk or ‘concern risk level’. Non-compliance with procurement regulations is said to be widespread and part of the council’s accepted culture. Poor contracts monitoring has resulted in large overspends of taxpayers’ money on capital projects, such as Bristol’s M Shed museum, and poor value for money in services delivered to the council. The use of consultants and agency staff was cited as being particularly poor value for money with inadequate supervision of their tasks.
The report reveals a culture of widespread abuse of welfare payments. Some £900,000 was fraudulently claimed in student exemptions from Council Tax charges, while £104,000 was falsely claimed in Housing Benefit.
A whistleblower was praised for revealing the criminal exploitation of council procurement, including the favouring of certain contractors over other suppliers by council officers, and the alleged inflation of contracts, that is, fleecing more money out of local taxpayers, some of which has already resulted in criminal prosecution. Then, within the council, there are ongoing investigations into the misuse of council property, council credit cards, telephones, council cars and misappropriated mileage claims. Then there is the issue of council employees making the most of their work-place rights. ‘[HR] resources going forward will be severely affected by sustained long-term sickness, maternity leave and the loss of a further member of staff,’ highlights the report.
It is a sorry state of affairs that shows a council riddled dogged by allegations of corruption and lax controls. Bristol taxpayers deserves a lot better and certainly should not be footing the bill for financial mismanagement.
Bristol councillor and former mayoral candidate Geoff Gollop says he ‘recognised the limitations of our old system which had become outdated" and was hoping this openness would encourage ‘people to blow the whistle when they're concerned about something.’