Report into A52 project reveals problems with previous Labour administration

February 8, 2019 7:23 AM

After last May's local elections, Central Midlands Audit Partnership were asked by the City Council to investigate the troubled A52 project and why it had gone wrong. The report does not make for pleasant reading. It has uncovered what can only be described as a disaster. Anything that could go wrong seems to have gone wrong.

The auditors found weaknesses in the governance, risk management, financial management, and project management arrangements. Contract management was inadequate. Issues and problems were not appropriately escalated and were therefore not dealt with. Management didn't give appropriate oversight or challenge.

The report contains some statements which raise further questions. For example, the Principal Contractor Representative stated that "there was political pressure to get the scheme started" (p22) even though the scheme wasn't ready to be started on site. The question needs to be asked how much did this contribute to causing the disaster?

Additionally, no mention is made of the negative culture caused by political pressures, which was highlighted by the LGA Peer Review and its recently released follow-up letter. That letter stated "a small number of individual Councillors who were in key positions and who had been behaving in ways which appeared to be well adrift from the standards expected and which were away from the Member Code of Conduct and the Member Officer protocol. These behaviours were having a poor impact on the overall officer perception of councillors and on trust between councillors and officers."

The report also comments that briefing "was done at a broad level due to the relationship we had with Members at that time". It is very telling about the poor working relationship that existed between officers and Cabinet Members.

There also appears to be differing recollections as to when Cabinet Members were told / knew that the project was having problems. Some Members may have know as early as August / September 2017, but by January / February 2018 the expected costs were greater and quantified and more money was required. Extra money was then approved by Cabinet.

Commenting, Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Ruth Skelton said, "Councillors may not be required to be subject experts in project management, but the public do expect them to have common sense and inquiring minds. If costs are rising, as with the A52, you would have expected Cabinet Member Afzal to start asking searching questions and to alert Cabinet colleagues to what was happening. It seems Cllr Afzal was not a 'hands on' Cabinet Member, and the people of Derby would be right to consider whether he was really serving their best interests."