PROBE: Auditors’ report shows how East Cambs parish council lost the plot on the way to losing �100,000

A PARISH council that lost almost �100,000 by hiring its own team of youth workers “failed in its duty to electors” says an auditors’ report.

They conclude that Sutton Parish Council failed to “exercise proper stewardship of taxpayers’ money” and had allowed “significant losses to accumulate” in the running of its Community Development Team.

Key findings are that former parish councillors:

1: Set up the development team without proper financial risk assessment

2: Hired staff without council approval

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3: Failed to report financial dealings properly

4: Failed to act in a timely fashion to limit losses

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5: Excluded the public from key discussions.

Dickon Sandbach of Moore Stephens said the council failed to act quickly enough when losses, which eventually totalled �98,612, began to mount and excluding residents from meetings demonstrated a “lack of transparency”

The council - which was at the centre of a storm in 2010 when a petition with nearly 1,000 names and objecting to a 27 per cent rise in council tax was handed to MP Steve Barclay- had to suspend its business when not enough councillors came forward at the May elections. All six community development staff was made redundant.

The team ran youth groups and activities, helped other community groups, and set up a community cafe following funding being awarded in April 2009.

Mr Sandbach said: “Following an inadequate assessment of the project the council established the team without having due and appropriate regard to all of the potential employment obligations for which it might be liable.

“Further there were delays in taking appropriate action to manage the situation and to adequately reduce or eliminate the loss-making activities.”

Sutton Parish Council says it has introduced a new system of checking and reporting to improve the standard of internal control.

The council conceded it had failed to rigorously apply financial regulations, and failed to adequately record all discussions and decisions.

The parish council had run youth teams for residents of Sutton, Mepal, Witcham, Little Downham and Wentworth and at one time attracted massive funding to boost their work.

They even won praise from Ian Dewar, chief executive of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Association of Local Councils.

He said that “Sutton Parish Council saw The Big Society before the current Government saw it.” Mr Dewar was at the time a Sutton councillor too and proponent of the scheme.

But Graham Redman, a former parish councillor who forced inquiries into the excessive expenditure, said that even as the council was being praised it was already in “real financial difficulty”.

He said he was satisfied the auditors report “told enough of the truth” for the council to now properly move forward.

“And with that I am done,” he wrote in a concluding comment on Shape Your Place community website.

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