The former Chairman of Peterborough City Council’s Scrutiny Committee Cllr. Mike Fletcher intends to set up an independent inquiry into the use and value for money of consultants within Peterborough City Council under Section 15 of the Audit Commission Act 1998. This quotation clarifies one issue at the heart of this debate.
It is apparent from the judgment in Veolia, that considerations relating to commercial sensitivity and confidentiality will not be relevant to the decision as to whether documents may be inspected under s. 15.
Panopticon November 11th 2009
It has been widely reported that whilst I was the chairman of the sustainable growth scrutiny committee I expressed my concern at the cost of and use of consultants by the City Council. Dated 18th January 2010 I submitted fifteen relevant questions with a directive that answers should be provided within four weeks for consideration at an interim committee meeting. The response from the solicitor to the council, giving only twenty four hours notice, was that the meeting had to be cancelled for the reason ‘that solicitors acting for ‘consultants’ were threatening legal action against the council’. As a direct result, to date not one of those questions have been answered and it is my belief they never will be willingly answered.
It was also reported that a so-called ‘task and finish panel’ dubbed by the press as an ‘elite team’ would be set up to enquire into and make a full report concerning the use of consultants. To date, that group have still to arrange a first meeting and I am no longer involved with either the panel or scrutiny committee.
We are told that consultants have saved this council some fantastic figures varying between twenty to thirty million pounds over the last five years. We are told that for every pound invested, that is anywhere from eight to twelve million pounds annually, there is a return of five pounds!! Work that one out, because to me the figures do not add up. It may well be that the figures are correct, but in the absence of any documentation to prove otherwise and the failure of the council to produce relevant documentation, the general public have a right to be sceptical. Take into account the threats of legal action should full details be provided then that action really does arouse suspicion.
Following on from earlier publicity in the ET and on local radio I received many e-mails and letters of support. As a result of that I am now making a request for two or three suitably qualified people, with legal or accountancy experience to come forward and join with me to examine the relevant sections of accounts in accordance with section 15 of the Audit Commission Act 1998. It should also be noted that as an elected member I have made two recent requests under the Freedom of Information Act to see certain relevant accounts. I have been told that I have no right to see these documents and both requests have been refused
When I was first elected to the council my election address contained the following:- I believe the overriding duty of every elected member, be it at national or local government level, should be to do everything possible to reduce the burden of taxation. That was my intention then and I intend to maintain that statement.
It has also been suggested that by pursuing this I am showing disloyalty to the ruling Conservative group. Let me make it quite clear that my loyalty remains with the party but I have an even greater loyalty to the electors of South Bretton and those residents of Peterborough who wish to see a high degree of proven clarity and honesty.
Cllr: Michael Fletcher