Scrutiny Committee given job of answering “how has this happened” over Tŷ Pawb management issues
Concerns over ‘basics’ and higher level project management issues on the Council’s Tŷ Pawb project have been raised in an Audit Committee meeting.
Cllr Dana Davies voiced strong enough concerns that she thought that the council’s Chief Executive should be formally notified of the Audit Committee concerns.
A range of issues were examined, after a report noted a ‘red audit’ with various concerns, where ‘errors and omissions have been detected’. Such problems were explained as ‘leaving the Council exposed to significant risk, which could lead to major financial loss, reputational risk of embarrassment or failure to achieve key service objectives’.
The main cause of concern from Cllr Davies appeared to relate to the management of Tŷ Pawb and why project handbooks and toolkit guides were not being followed by council staff when they should be, and what wider implications to the local authority could be.
Cllr Davies asked: “Why is it not being used when it is in place, it is what we see here and is told is our mitigation? I am looking at a recommendation on this where we go straight to the Chief Exec to be honest.”
The Audit Officer explained to the meeting how the issues came to light via a scheduled audit, and there was ‘ignorance’ in Tŷ Pawb of some of the things required for proper financial control. Due to the ‘red’ label of the audit a follow up audit was due inside three months, however stressed ‘a start had been made to address issues’, with the senior leadership team of Wrexham Council meeting two weeks ago.
The Officer detailed what the audit had uncovered, including the ‘need for improved basic controls’ over handling of cash / till use at the carpark bar and shop.
Four pay stations in the car park take cash, and it was revealed Tŷ Pawb needs to reconcile the cash received with the amounts recorded on the software systems on the pay station, a situation described as a ‘weakness’ in the controls.
Funding bid management was also highlighted, with the project management toolkit apparently not being used, which would mean any required support from other departments and services would be flagged up in advance.
Officer time from other departments was given as a cost of not doing this, “Nothing to our knowledge at this date has gone wrong, largely due to the intervention of the Finance department.”
Delays over invoicing was also noted, along with ‘improved financial practices’ for event hire, the bar and the shop.
No complete inventory existed for Tŷ Pawb, something Cllr Marc Jones was incredulous over, who pointed out it was a new development and could not understand how that position was possible, “When you start a new venture you should know exactly what you have got. It is inconceivable that you wouldnt have a comprehensive inventory. I am staggered.”
Cllr Davies branded the situation as ‘really worrying’ as there was ‘basic stuff’ being highlighted by audit.
Cllr Davies also linked the issues over the lack of the project management tools to the recent revamp on how Wrexham Council is structured at a senior level, and expressed ‘real concern’ if the reputation was developed that Wrexham Council could not manage projects.
Cllr Davies probed over the delayed invoices and was told they related around ‘venue hire’ rather than tenants.
Cllr Marc Jones said: “I expected us to have all these things in place before it started, it was not a Splash Magic type of situation, it was planned for. I am concerned it seems it was not fully up and running when it was meant to be and we are playing catch up. That is deeply concerning.”
“I don’t understand why we are playing catch up when we knew this was happening, and planning to do this for years.”
“It is a big project, we have put £851,000 in to this on top of the Arts Council money this year, that is revenue not capital.
(After the meeting Cllr Jones has been in touch – the £851k is in-fact capital, and is referenced in an earlier agenda item on budgets – page 6 on this PDF. The figure was not corrected by anyone in the meeting.)
Cllr Jones said, “How do we get caught out as a council on this?”
“How has this happened? It is on our watch as an Audit Committee.”
Cllr Jones added there had been mention of significant input by Audit and Finance, and if the time / money in effect had been recharged to Tŷ Pawb – it appeared that had not been the case.
The Audit Officer offered a response noting the points raised were ‘highly relevant’ and ‘begged certain questions’, but offered a self labeled stock answer ‘we are where we are’.
The Officer noted ‘a whole list of issues that need to be considered’ and added in a reference to an emailed list of detailed queries from a member of the public. The Officer pointed to a Scrutiny meeting in two weeks time on the topic of Tŷ Pawb as being a more appropriate body to consider and examine them all as the focus of the Audit meeting was different.
The meeting was told by the Chair that ‘a message needs to go from this committee to Scrutiny highlighting our concerns, and the concerns that have sprung out of the assessment that has taken place’.
“It is necessary that we raise our eyebrows and raise our concerns in the expectation that Scrutiny will consider these concerns.”
Cllr Dana Davies said there could be bigger issues regarding the lack of roles and responsibilities in project management and governance.
The Chair indicated he felt strongly that apparent ‘non-compliance’ on the project management handbook use ‘to my mind mind significantly different and is what it is’, and was evidently unhappy.
An ‘offer’ was made that the fresh audit could be brought forward, and then report back to the Audit Committee on outcomes, to hopefully reassure the committee sooner than later.
Cllr Rodney Skelland chipped in, pointing out issues over the business plan for the arts and market centre that were raised in Scrutiny, and relating the odd conversation he had in a committee when the Lead Member effectively for the project Cllr Hugh Jones ‘couldnt remember’ the business plan had been brought before a meeting (snippet from our report on that below).
Cllr Skelland agreed with Cllr Davies in the belief the Chief Executive of the council ‘should be getting involved in management issues around this’ and that ‘someone should explain to the Scrutiny committee how this situation has happened’.
The Chair summarised that Audit expects ‘detailed coverage’ of the issues being passed over to Scrutiny, and will hope for a ‘response’ to come back to allow ‘detailed assurances’, as well as awaiting the outcome of the earlier than expected re-audit.
The current chair of the forthcoming Scrutiny meeting (Cllr Paul Roberts) was firmly inquisitive in this session, however back in the December meeting he ran traders were critical of being ignored – branding it a ‘waste of time’ as questions were not asked and attendees were not called, despite notice being given they were there and had to leave early.
The Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee meet on Thursday, 13th June at 4.00 pm in the Guildhall – now with a higher expectation over their questioning ability over Tŷ Pawb now demanded by Audit.
Cllr Dana Davies also queried over the mysterious ‘Investigation B’ asking if there was an A or C, and how far down the alphabet things were going.
The meeting was told by Audit that there was an Investigation C and ‘not that far down’ the alphabet, despite one councillor joking it could have ‘started from Z’. The process was explained quite simply, if there is an investigation or issue flagged it is given a letter and assessed. Later Cllr Paul Roberts expressed concern that details of the apparently completed Investigation A were not included in the report before them. Investigation C was described as ‘ongoing’.
This meeting was also the first to have images recorded under the new rules – you can read more on that here…
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