Wednesday 1 October 2008
Barnet FC Freehold Announcement Imminent
The long running investigation into the council's unlawful sale of the freehold of Barnet Football Club's stadium has finally been completed and the council’s auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, will be publishing their findings on 8th October - a mere 6 years, 6 months and 12 days since the land was sold by the previous Labour/LibDem Administration for a measly £10,000.
Opponents of the investigation are very anxious to concentrate only on the cost of the inquiry. Perhaps this is because they do not want the public to be reminded that in 2004, the High Court declared that the sale contravened s.123 Local Government Act 1972.
The sale had previously been described by an independent inquiry team as being “a major breach of the democratic process.” Add to that the High Court declaration that the sale was unlawful and you have the most damning indictment possible of Barnet Council.
To those who have opposed the auditor’s investigation, I ask:
1. Do you support the sale by the previous Labour/LibDem council on unlawful terms?
2. Are you happy that the land was sold secretly for £10,000 despite being worth considerably more?
3. Are you happy for all the procedural irregularities to be swept under the carpet?
4. Are you happy that nobody has been held to account for their actions?
Many people have raised concerns as to PwC’s costs. Opponents of the inquiry conveniently forget that the auditor is legally required to be mindful of the cost to the public purse of any audit investigation. He cannot carry out an inquiry if he believes that the cost would be disproportionate to the matter at hand.
Furthermore, the auditor alone decides whether or not to conduct an investigation. The public are entitled to ask for an investigation, but they have no right to force the auditor to hold one. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that PwC had sufficient concerns about the sale to have launched their investigation in the first place.
It should be stressed that the PwC investigation has absolutely nothing to do with Barnet Football Club. Over the last few years I have spoken many times with club Chairman Tony Kleanthous. He has always been keen to point out that the club did nothing wrong. But PwC were not asked to investigate the club’s conduct in the transaction, and nor did they have the power to do so. They were only investigating the council’s conduct.
But just as the Labour Government is trying to divert public attention away from its abysmal mismanagement of the economy by blaming everything and everyone else, so Barnet council now seeks to divert attention from its failure to comply with the law or to take action against those responsible.
The spin coming from the council is that the investigation has cost about £1 million and it is all David Miller’s fault. Talk about shooting the mesenger! This nonsense started in July when council Leader Mike Freer posted the most outrageous and blatant lie on Rog T’s blog when he said “The referral to the external auditors was by three members of the public not the Council”.
Yes, three members of the public (of whom I am one) made a complaint to the auditor, but it was the Cabinet which voted on 1st June 2004 to refer the matter to the Auditor for further investigation after the internal investigation carried out by Brian Reynolds was unanimously rejected by them. Cllr Freer was present at that meeting and voted in support of the resolution.
The then leader, Victor Lyon, formally wrote to PwC on 23rd June 2004 requesting an investigation.
For the record, it should be noted that whilst I and another Barnet resident first contacted PwC in 2002, our complaints were not formally registered until 2005 - long after Cllr Freer and his chums had made their own complaint.
The original auditor assigned to Barnet told me that he would not start his inquiry whilst Barnet was carrying out its own internal investigations. You would need to ask the council why they did not call in the auditor on day one, which would have been the sensible thing to have done.
As for the claim over costs, the figure of £1 million has been thrown about for some time now, but does it include the £200,000 spent on legal indemnities given by the council to the officers and councillors under investigation? PwC have hired their own lawyers, but at what cost?
Does the £1million include the hundreds of thousands of pounds wasted on the failed and futile High Court case against Barnet Football Club?
I rather suspect that most of the money has been spent on lawyers and legal fees rather than going to PwC. I have served a Freedom of Information request on the council to get the definitive answer and I have been told that I will have a reply by 10th October. Watch out for a new posting on this blog.
In the mean time, we can only sit and wait for PwC’s findings. I hope the entire report will be placed in the public domain as there are some really important documents which the public needs to see. Unfortunately, I am legally prevented from publishing them at this time.