Paul Hughes, the auditor who refused a public interest inquiry into the appalling £1.3 m MetPro security staff scandal exposed by my fellow bloggers has rejected a further appeal for an inquiry into Barnet Council’s extraordinary inability to monitor its own contracts properly.
Only last week his inaction was singled out by Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, in a speech to the annual conference of the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) – the big wigs of the accountancy profession – for missing the scandal altogether when his firm Grant Thornton audited Barnet Council for a £373,000 fee. Instead Pickles praised Barnet bloggers, Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard among many others, for finding out what Mr Hughes missed. ( see my old colleague Patrick Butler in Society Guardian).http://bit.ly/pujHys Now he says he can’t really investigate because it will be too expensive for the taxpayer.
In a letter to Andrew Dismore, the former MP for Hendon and Labour candidate challenging Brian Coleman for the London Assembly next year, he says:
“In considering whether to undertake work in connection with a public interest report we are required to balance the additional cost top the taxpayer with the nature and scale of the issue. The relevant Audit Commission rates for the level of staff that would be required for this are up to £380 an hour (engagement lead) and £210 per hour ( manager) and there is some risk that at a cost to the taxpayer we can only repeat what is already in, or will be in, the public domain.”
” Our view remains that the most appropriate response for the taxpayers of Barnet is to allow the council to complete its own review before committing to any detailed investigation work on our part.”
He does promise that he will not hesitate to use these powers ” in the public interest” when the oucnil reports back in September if the soon to be privatised management are not ” robust” on their response.
Not surprisingly Mr Dismore is not satisfied. He writes back that he finds his reply “very disappointing, as I know will many other Barnet residents. Can you please set out in detail what steps you will be taking to “monitor the situation and assess the management and internal audit review work”.
So there is no change here. The bloggers who got MetPro need to keep Mr Hughes on his expensive toes. A reminder: his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.