Thursday 26 March 2009

"Accountability breeds responsibility"

These are the wise words of Dr Stephen Covey, the international best selling author of management books. I was reminded of this quotation after reading Cllr Duncan Macdonald’s latest blog on the Icelandic banking scandal, which has put £27.4million of Barnet taxpayers’ money at risk.

Cllr Macdonald is a member of the Working Group scrutiny committee which recently discovered that the council had been ignoring its own investment criteria, resulting in huge sums of public money being recklessly deposited in failing Icelandic banks.

Last night, the committee presented its draft findings to the Resources, Performance and Partnerships Overview & Scrutiny Committee, but despite the fact that its remit was to review the council’s Treasury Management strategy, treasury officers present at the meeting were actually proposing amendments to the report! This blatant conflict of interest should have been obvious to the experienced committee Chairman.

Cllr Macdonald believes the committee acted unconstitutionally, and there is certainly a prohibition in the constitution which prevents officers investigating matters in which they were involved. But if you can ignore your own investment criteria, I suppose you can ignore the constitution as well.

Cllr Macdonald also believes that the Conservatives were under instructions to water the report down. It is really quite incredible that the same Conservative councillors who agreed the draft report, then amended it at the committee stage and vote the original down.

The council now appears to be engaged in an orchestrated buck passing exercise. Nobody is to be held accountable. No senior figure is to be held responsible. Just like the Underhill scandal, the council has found one middle ranking officer to pin the whole shebang on, and everyone else is absolved. New Chief Executive Nick Walkley cleared Mike Freer of blame before the promised investigation has even started!

It is not credible to suggest that the former Treasury Manager, who resigned two weeks ago, was solely responsible for £27.4 million worth of investments. Rules were broken, but of all of the mistakes the council has made, the biggest is to think that the public are stupid. We are told there will be an independent investigation. What are the odds that we will just end up with this?

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