LAMBETHWATCH – COUNCIL LEADER LIB PECK “MEETS LAMBETH CITIZENS”…WHILE PEOPLE’S AUDIT ARE STILL WAITING FOR ANSWERS…

LambethLabour Retweeted Lib Peck‏ @cllrpeck Aug 23

Great to see @LambethCitizens, really positive discussions about how we can work together on affordable housing, welcoming more refugees and improving social mobility

Lambeth Citizens @LambethCitizens

We are a community power organisation in #Lambeth. An alliance of local organisations developing people’s capacity to tackle injustice. Part of @SLondonCitizens

Lambeth Citizens Retweeted Jimmy Pickering‏ @jimmypeanuts Aug 23

Real progress being made on important issues with @cllrpeck. Proud to be part of a powerful team of people making positive change in Lambeth #lambethpower

South London Citizens @SLondonCitizens

South London Citizens is part of @CitizensUK – Europe’s largest and most diverse alliance of civil society institutions working together for the common good.

And who are the groups which make up Lambeth Citizens? – well, there’s a distinctly religious feel to them:

Lambeth Citizens
Corpus Christi Catholic Church
Hyderi Islamic Centre
Railton Road Methodist Church
St Matthew’s, Brixton
St Paul’s Brixton
St John the Divine, Kennington
Advocacy Academy
Church of the Holy Spirit Clapham
South London Liberal Synagogue
Hetherington Group Practice
St John’s Angell Town CofE Primary School
All Saints West Dulwich
Saint Gabriel’s College
Kings College London
New Economics Foundation
St John the Evangelist, Angell Town
St John the Evangelist, Waterloo
Chips

News From Crystal Palace looks forward to Cllr Lib Peck ‘Tweeting’ that she has met, among others, Friends of Lambeth Libraries, Residents and tenants groups on the six estates Lambeth Labour are hellbent on demolishing (and not some puppet organisation) and People’s Audit Lambeth.

As we said, News From Crystal Palace looks forward to this, but….

…WHILE PEOPLE’S AUDIT ARE STILL WAITING FOR ANSWERS…

Last week News From Crystal Palace highlighted how People’s Audit Lambeth had challenged Lambeth council to a public debate after comments by their new cabinet member for finance – the self-styled Cllr Andy ‘Credibility’ Wilson – which he made in response to an article on the mySociety website. (Please see: LAMBETH – THE MUD-SLINGING COUNCIL? People’s Audit call for public debate with council after Cllr Andy ‘Credibility’ Wilson’s attack 24th August 2018)

Defend The Ten Retweeted Peoples Audit‏ @PeoplesAudit Aug 24

While we’re on the subject, here is our point by point response to which we issued last September:

We are still waiting for answers to “The questions that won’t go way”

Issues from the Peoples’ Audit that Lambeth is yet to address

This is a sample of the issues in our report that have still not been addressed by Lambeth Council:

 New Town Hall. Please explain how it is that a project which we were told would cost £50M and save the public money is now costing £104M (Section 5 of report).

 New Town Hall. Please explain why Lambeth have accepted a bid from Muse which only had 20% affordable housing when it was stated in the cabinet minutes that 40% would be achieved. Lambeth state that they have paid an additional £5M to Muse to increase the affordable housing element from 20% to 40%. 194 homes x 20% =39 homes/£5M = £128,000 per home, which is more than the cost of building them. This is on top of the substantial discount that Muse have received in the price that they have paid for the lease of the land. Please explain (Section 5 of report).

 Libraries. Please provide the legal opinion stating that the deal struck between Lambeth and GLL was not in breach of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. Please also explain why sponsorship of the Black Cultural Archive by GLL was conditional on the deal struck between Lambeth and GLL for the healthy living centres (Section 9 of report).

 Payments without budget. Please explain the obvious flaw in governance that allows contractors to be paid without a budget (Section 13.1 of report).

 Contract Waivers. Please explain why Lambeth’s Standing Orders are being ignored on such a large scale (Section 13.3 of report).

Role of the external auditors

In Lambeth Council’s reply to the Peoples’Audit, deputy leader, Cllr Imogen Walker states: ‘The council’s accounts have been fully signed off by the independent auditors, who have also responded in detail to the complaints submitted by the ‘People’s Audit’. There is clearly no basis for the finding of “extensive financial mismanagement” in this report, and many of its complaints were addressed by the auditors and Lambeth officers several months ago.’

The Peoples’ Audit Response:

Lambeth Council’s reliance on KPMG as a defence against concerns of financial mismanagement doesn’t tell the whole story. As we stated in our open letter to Lambeth “The majority of the questions that the report poses need to be answered by Lambeth council, not KPMG.” Furthermore, although the accounts have been signed off by KPMG, they state in their audit report:

“We will not be certifying our audit as complete as result of the objections we have received to the accounts”.

It is entirely untrue of Lambeth to state with regard to our objections to the auditor that “No such evidence was provided”. Evidence has been provided to the auditor. At the time of writing there are still objections outstanding with KPMG, more than a year after they were submitted.

Lambeth’s claims about the Peoples’ Audit

The Peoples’ Audit team has never said Lambeth’s officers were obstructive. The finance officer we dealt with was very helpful and enthusiastic about our offer of help to review the problems in Lambeth’s contract management. In an e-mail to his managers dated 8th August 2016 he stated with regard to one of our team,

“By way of context, he is a quantity surveyor, and I found him to be knowledgeable, professional and credible, and he advised me that he had been able to reduce bills for final accounts from contractors on another public sector project by £8m – so I get the impression he knows what he is doing. Therefore, if there is any way of taking up his offer of assistance in (1), after due diligence on our part, I think this is an avenue worth exploring.”

This offer of help was then subsequently rejected by Lambeth, leading us to believe that the council’s leadership was reluctant to encourage scrutiny by residents. This is why we stated in our report “the attitude of the council as a whole was obstructive”16.

We find it hard to reconcile Lambeth council’s claim that it welcomes transparency with the reality of having to deal with them. Here are a few examples of what we encountered:

 With one exception (which fell outside the audit inspection period),17 Lambeth did not provide back-up calculations to any invoices they provided.18 Why Lambeth council chose to waste officers’ time retrieving invoices and then sabotage the process by not providing the back-up calculations is a question that only Lambeth can answer.

 In 2015/16, Lambeth failed to provide us with a single contract, citing commercial sensitivity.19 Despite requests for them to provide public interest tests as to why contracts are commercially sensitive they have failed to provide any.

 Despite MPs being required to make public their expenses and other councils publishing councillors’ and officers’ expenses, Lambeth have refused to provide this information, stating that this is personal information.

Lambeth have refused to provide answers to Freedom of Information requests, forcing us to escalate questions to the Information Commissioner. In one example, we had to wait nearly a year for a one-sentence response from Lambeth, which the Information Commissioner’s Office had ordered them to release.

During the 2015/2016 audit, Lambeth Council provided the Peoples’ Audit with 203 invoices. The balance of the information provided was spreadsheets and cost downloads from the finance system. The finance officer held meetings with five of us.

Lambeth Council claims 230 hours – six working weeks – of officer time was spent on dealing with our requests. If this is true, it only serves to highlight how dysfunctional the organisation is.

It speaks volumes that in one case, we had to tell the finance officer who the responsible managers were in the housing department that he needed to talk to in order to retrieve information.

The offer to meet with Lambeth Council remains open.

Lambeth Peoples’ Audit September 2017

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