A52 Project Report Reveals Further Failings by Labour

March 20, 2019 6:36 PM
By Cllr Ruth Skelton

As we're by now painfully well aware, the A52 upgrade project started under Labour has been far from a success. Tens of millions have been wasted and extra delays and congestion caused by Labour's failings.

The report by Central Midlands Audit Partnership doesn't make for pleasant reading. The project went disastrously wrong. And the seeds of its own destruction were there right from the beginning.

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

Auditors reports cover the things for which there is a trail of evidence - usually in writing. Phone calls, unless logged systematically, wouldn't feature.

The report contains some statements that 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 was not ready to be started on site. The question needs to be asked how much this contributed to causing the disaster?

Additionally, no mention is made of the negative culture that was prevalent in the Council's former leadership. This was highlighted by the LGA's Peer Review of the City Council, and its follow-up letter. The 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 the time." That is quite an indictment of the poor working relationship between officers and Cabinet Members on this project.

There also appears to be differing recollections as to when Cabinet Members were told / knew that the project was in difficulty. Some members may have known 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.

These facts can then be compared to the statement that Cabinet Member Afzal made to Radio Derby. He said "I've not done anything wrong. I've not been made aware of it. The first I was made aware of it, and I'm making this on Council record, was after the elections. As soon as I was made aware of it, I contacted the Chief Executive."

On page 41 the former director confirms that members had the option to join the project board but withdrew and just had short briefings. It beggars belief that the cabinet member couldn't recognise that a multi-million pound project was something he should be taking a keen interest in. Had he been on the project board, there would have been a sporting chance of him recognising that things were going pear-shaped.

This leads on to consider these weaknesses in the cabinet system of governance. With just 1 cabinet member making decisions, the system is reliant on that 1 person having the knowledge and skills required as well as common sense and an inquiring mind. Compare that to a committee of say 8 people who together have a range of skills and experience that would not be found in 1 person alone. Officers are better held to account and there is debate and scrutiny of the proposal being discussed.

If this sorry saga teaches us anything, we need to accept that the cabinet system is not fit for purpose, and we need to bring in a committee system.