AT AUDIT Committee on Tuesday (March 22), County Councillor Bill Thomas said that the report on leisure the Audit Committee were being presented was very small, but that the issues were large.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the report’s brevity and lack of detail, Cllr Thomas asked point blank: “Is there any fraud involved?”
Councillor Thomas continued by enquiring what the precise ‘historic issues’ referred to in the report and asked whether there was any evidence of either maladministration of mismanagement.
Councillor Thomas also wanted to know if senior management had been aware of the issues in the report and, if so, for how long they had been aware.
Councillor Thomas pressed on with his questions asking officers: “How did you find out about these issues?”
Suggesting that the review was not the end of the matter, he observed: “This needs to be referred somewhere to be investigated. What has happened to raise these issues? Has it lost us any money and can we recover that money?”
Decrying the lack of detail in the report before the Audit Committee, Cllr Thomas suggested: “If we don’t know what has been happening we don’t have a chance. Within this report it indicates there are problems. Who is going to investigate after all this has been identified? It needs to be looked at by a third party and we demonstrate we are looking after public money and not paper over the cracks.”
Sir David Lewis observed: “The report states the obvious. What we need is an action plan. It is unhelpful to have a report structured in this way. Should something happen we would be dead in the water.”
County Councillor John James expressed strong misgivings: “The report is vague. It tells us what is wrong. What worries me is the mismanagement and the health and safety risks.”
Concerned about what even the puny report before the Committee revealed, Cllr Emlyn Williams asked: “If it is not fraud it is a total lack of system, is that what you are telling us?”
Executive Board member Hazel Evans also wanted answers: “It is a shame continuing issues come up. What has been put in place?”
Responding to questions Ian Jones, Director of Leisure and Regeneration, and Phil Sexton expressly denied that any fraud had taken place.
Mr Jones told the committee that, following the departure of the previous Director (David Gilbert OBE, who is now a member of the Swansea Bay City Region Board), staff had been asked to look at a number of issues. However, Mr Jones failed to expressly identify what those issues were or how they had arisen in the first place.
Mr Jones went on to claim that what the report had picked up on were ‘exceptions’ and that whatever the ‘historic issues’ were, they were not the norm across all sites.
The Director of Leisure and Regeneration claimed that the authority was a victim of its own success and change within his department. He cited challenges the authority had faced with staff leaving and with unidentified and unexplained ‘complicated Human Resource issues’.
Mr Jones said that areas needed to be strengthened and improved, while failing to identify why improvement was required, or at least how the circumstances giving rise to improvement’ necessity had arisen.
Phil Sexton, the council’s head of audit, risk and procurement said: “It was made clear to the Audit Committee that no fraud had been identified. In terms of the review of the leisure facilities at Pembrey Country Park and the Millennium Coastal Park, which had been undertaken at the request of the Director of Communities, the committee was made aware that the weaknesses identified were being addressed and officers would continue to work closely with the audit section.
“Members were advised that an Action Plan was being prepared in respect of the issues in question and it was agreed that this should be brought to the committee at its next meeting. It was then resolved by the committee that, for monitoring purposes, an Action Plan be submitted to the next meeting detailing as to how the concerns raised following the review of the leisure facilities at Pembrey Country Park and the Millennium Coastal Park would be addressed.”
Speaking to Herald reporter Alan Evans, the Executive Board Member for Finance, Cllr Dai Jenkins, said: “The audit committee have done their work and there is going to be an action plan to look into it further. If the allegations are as bad as they seem to be and are found to be true and if there are loopholes in the system they will be removed. The audit committee is only a tool of the full council as are all scrutiny committees.
“There is no hiding place. I don’t see any way shape or form that there can be a cover up. We will look at the review in full detail and report to full council accordingly.”