Exclusive: How you got state funded work experience in a strip club with A4e

From the dole queue to the strip club; Red faces at A4 e and the DWP

The leaked internal audit report into the failings of  A4e featured on BBC Newsnight last month missed an extraordinary bombshell. .

The work provider company run by Cameron’s former work Czar, Emma Harrison, was actually placing claimants to work in night clubs and strip clubs when fun loving Labour minister James Purnell, was works and pensions secretary.

A detailed examination of the audit report reveals that X in the City – a Liverpool lap dancing club – favoured by carousing Premier  League footballers – took at least one person from A4e.

The full story is revealed in my piece for Exaro News, the investigative website.at http://www.exaronews.com

The lap-dancing and strip bar made headlines earlier this year after the Manchester City striker, Mario Balotelli, was fined a week’s wages for breaking a team curfew while visiting the nightspot less than 48 hours before a crucial Premier League match against Bolton Wanderers.

The bar advertises lap dances at £5 a time, and offers a ‘VIP’ deal in private rooms where a half-hour lap dance with champagne costs £50.

The report also reveals that two other claimants were placed in night clubs in Norwich. A4e declines to reveal how many other people got jobs in sex and night clubs at the time in 2009.

The whole matter is also  a bit of an embarrassment for Christian Iain Duncan Smith, the current works and pensions secretary,who has imposed an all out ban on allowing A4e or anyone else telling people to work in lap dancing joints.

At the time of the placement according to his department the ruling was: ‘Jobcentre Plus will no longer advertise jobs that involve the direct sexual stimulation of others because publicly-funded services should not be a conduit to this work. The ban would cover jobs such as lap dancers, web-cam performers and strippers. However, Jobcentre Plus will continue to accept other vacancies in the retail, manufacturing and distribution sectors of the industry. A cleaning job in a lap dancing club could still be advertised, for example.

There is a final irony in all of this. The auditors don’t know whether the person placed there –  one Jamie Nolan – ever took it  up because they were too shy to go in and investigate.

The report says:“It was not possible to conduct a visit to ‘X In The City’ to verify the documents…This employer is a lap-dance bar and was not open during the hours of the audit.”

It was a case of  No sex please, we’re auditors. And the manager of the club claims he can’t remember either. Wow what a mess!

Grant Shapps: The man killing the public right to expose another Dame Shirley Porter

Grant Shapps: Abolishing the public's right to object

Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, and Grant Shapps, the housing minister, will shortly be publishing the government’s response to their consultation on the rather boring subject of holding councils to account after they have closed down the Audit Commission.

Hidden in this rather dense document is a rather nasty proposal which seems to go against everything they stand for in opening up councils to scrutiny. The ministers are on record in wanting to encourage armchair auditors, more localism, more public rights, openness, you name it.

Eric Pickles is even a  fan of my friend Mrs Angry- a thorny red rose in the side of true blue Barnet Council- much to chagrin of Brian Coleman and his friends.

 So it rather bizarre that top Tory politicians should include a measure to abolish a 150 year old right that brought to light one of the worst scandals in local government.

Dame Shirley: Would have been saved by Grant Shapps. Pic courtesy:busheywood.com

 The exposure of Dame Shirley Porter in the 1990s for the infamous ” homes for votes ” scandal that included ” gerrymandering ” votes by selling council homes in Tory marginal seats was only possible because of a public right to force an auditor to investigate.

As the report says: “Members of the public currently have rights to question the auditor of an audited body about its accounts and raise objections… in respect of unlawful items of account or matters on which the auditor can make a report in the public interest..

Auditors have only limited discretion to refuse to investigate objections, but the costs of investigating objections, which are recovered from the local public body and, therefore, funded by council taxpayers, can be disproportionate to the sums involved in the complaint, or to the normal audit costs of the local public body.”

This rarely used power is now being scrapped because  as the paper says: “we consider that the rights for local government electors to object to the accounts are both outdated and over-burdensome on auditors, local public bodies and council tax payers.”

So  effectively Pickles and Shapps are saying it is too burdensome  for auditors to expose corruption and certainly not in the interest of local people to have the power to force the auditor to do it. One wonders why ministers are so keen to do this. Are they expecting more corruption? Do they not want the most forensic skilled person – the auditor – to examine accounts but rather as they propose go to lay people like the Information Commissioner and the local government ombudsman to do it? Or is Mr Shapps repealing this measure as a gift to a  secret fellow Tory heroine of his, Dame Shirley?

 I think we deserve to be told. You could try to get answers. Grant Shapps is a great user of Twitter, so you may send a tweet to @grantshapps. Eric Pickles is more old twentieth century and not very techy but he does have an email address, eric.pickles@communities.gsi.gov.uk.

 In the meantime I have written a full piece – one of five – on life after the Audit Commission – on the new Exaro News website. The link is  http://bit.ly/n8vRpc .

MetPro: A damning indictment of a flagship Tory council

One of three names for MetPro security company

Barnet Council: A damning report Pic: courtesy Barnet Council

The official audit report on  MetPro out this week – the bust security company employed by Barnet Council caught out secretly filming bloggers- is one of the most damning indictments of council incompetence I have ever seen.

The council’s own internal auditors have admitted that it had no business  spending £1.3m on  the security firm – under various titles and guises-  without carrying out basic checks or opening up the tender to competition.

 Frankly some of the findings are so damning as it to be almost unbelievable. Not only were basic checks never undertaken but officials even paid out cash without noticing it was going into an unauthorised bank account from those specified in the contracts and with the wrong VAT number on them. The council is even in danger of being prosecuted by Revenue and Customs for overpayments of VAT as a result. In other cases, there is NO  record of payments made to the company at all.  Any small business caught doing this would find the heavy hand of  the revenue turning them over.

This scandalous state of affairs would never have come to light without the combined work of Barnet’s bloggers – with particular reference to Mrs Angry’s  heroic and diligent work on the Broken Barnet website. See  here for her full report.( http://bitly.com/i13ngn )

As she points out the auditors’ finding are appalling: “No procurement exercise had been undertaken to appoint MetPro, in accordance with the Council’s CPR.
No written contract between the Council and MetPro could be found.
There is no record of an approval and authorisation for the use of MetPro for providing security
In the absence of a formal procurement exercise, we could not locate the following
documents/confirmation for MetPro, which the CPR require:
 Financial viability of the company
 Equal Opportunities Assessment
 Criminal Records Bureau checks
 Confirmation of company’s Public Liability Insurance arrangements
 Confirmation of the company’s Health and Safety registration
 Confirmation on the SIA licence status of the Company Officers
 An agreed specification which outlined the service to be provided
 An agreed schedule of rates for payment of invoices
 A process for monitoring performance of service delivery to establish if the Council was
receiving value for money ”

 It goes on: “Our sample testing of invoices highlighted there had been payments of invoices in the names of MetPro Group and MetPro Emergency Response Ltd where a valid VAT number had not been quoted. However a full review of all payments of invoices should be completed to identify all instances where a valid VAT number had not been quoted and the implications discussed with HMRC. There were inappropriate changes to bank account details on SAP Financial System resulting in payments to an unauthorised vendor – MetPro Emergency Response.”

Download  the full report at http://bit.ly/kqWmR0 .

There are much wider implications from this damning indictment of this flagship Easycare council.

With the government pushing councils to contract out – there must be proper supervision or literally millions of pounds could go astray. And there need to be questions asked of  Barnet’s external auditors, Grant Thornton, who consistently give such an incompetent shower of officials a clean bill of health. The firm can’t be value for money if it misses such a  big black hole.

Sadly the signs are in the name of  localism this could proliferate. Current plans for audit reform by Grant Shapps, the local government minister, intend to encourage a light touch.  This will be good news for incompetents and crooks across the nation but very bad news for council taxpayers everywhere.