Head of Plymouth quango plundered funds for jaunts

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The Independent Online
The chief executive of a government flagship project, the Plymouth Development Corporation, spent pounds 9,210 of the organisation's money on his own private expenses during four overseas visits, according to a report by the all-party Public Accounts Committee.

John Collinson, who also wrongly authorised the expenditure of pounds 2,080 by other members of staff, was suspended when the incidents in 1995 came to light and resigned.

The incidents concerning Mr Collinson were part of wider criticism of the way the corporation was run by the MPs.

They say that there was "poor stewardship of public funds" and that the corporation "lost control over the expenditure of public funds".

There was a lack of basic checks on invoices, a high level of duplicate payments and inadequate management inform- ation to the board. For example, there were no records on why out of pounds 10,832 worth of foreign currency provided for trips, pounds 2,265 was not accounted for.

The corporation sponsored a two-handed transatlantic yacht race in June 1994, costing pounds 75,000, and a party of five employees and three representatives of their marketing consultants, Tamesis, travelled to the United States to award the prizes. Mr Collinson and several other staff members were accompanied by their families.

A property exhibition in Nice was attended by 14 people at the expense of the corporation, including the wife and child of the commercial director, Jonathan Naughton, who has also subsequently left his job.

The contract with Tamesis, and its partner, MSP, was also heavily criticised because it cost more than pounds 1.2m but was not the subject of a detailed contract. No details were provided on invoices, an 18-per-cent handling charge was placed on the contract without the knowledge of the corporation's finance department and overcharges resulted in a rebate of pounds 122,584 after the contract was terminated in December 1995.

The chief executives of other corporations and similar bodies have now been sent letters by the Department of the Environment, pointing out the lessons learnt from the experience of Plymouth.

The Plymouth Development Corporation was established in 1993 with the aim of regenerating three waterfront areas of the city.

Committee of Public Accounts, Plymouth Development Corporation: regularity, propriety and control of expenditure; House of Commons paper 450, Stationery Office; pounds 5.10.