Junket inquiry council admits failings

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A local authority under police investigation for alleged corruption has admitted to an extraordinary series of failings by councillors and senior officers.

A highly self-critical report by two senior council officers of Doncaster council lists wide-ranging failures by their colleagues and councillors in the Labour-run authority.

The report will stimulate Tory criticism of sleaze in Labour's own back yard and suggests that future inquiries into the affair will be deeply damaging. While couched in bureaucratic language, the criticism is of a strength rarely seen in local government reports.

The inquiry team, led by the legal services director, Judy Rolston, and the social services director, Ian Cartwright, says that for several years "certain aspects of the management of the council, by a number of members and senior officers, has not operated effectively to determine policy, set standards and promote proper and effective decision-making".

Moreover, "checks and balances which should have safeguarded the council have often not done so".

The report singles out "some members and some senior officers", in particular the former chief executive, Doug Hale, and the former finance director, John Smith, both of whom have now left the council. It finds several instances of "inappropriate receipt of gifts and hospitality on the part of some members and officers" and "a failure to comply with rules on this and on declarations of interest".

While the investigation started over allegations of junketing it has spread to cover more serious abuses of the planning process. In this respect, both members and officers had fallen short of the "highest standards of conduct".

The report's authors add: "There is also strong evidence of undue influence, of oppressive behaviour by some members towards officers and/or fellow members ... seeking to influence proper process."

This was a breach of the National Code of Local Government Conduct, the report says. The failure to observe these procedures has "contributed to fundamental problems ranging from breaches of standing orders to alleged criminal activity". There was also a "lack of openness".

The report recommends action including setting up a committee to "address issues of probity and good practice", the recruitment of a chief internal auditor, the introduction of a whistleblower's charter and mandatory training for councillors on "planning law, procedure and the decision-making process".

Malcolm Glover, who became leader of the council after his predecessor, Peter Walsh, was alleged to have gone on unauthorised council trips, said: "The council is currently facing the closest scrutiny in its history and this report and its proposals will help us take the necessary steps required to repair our image."

Doncaster is also the subject of inquiries by the district auditor and the Labour Party which has suspended five councillors and the district party.

The Independent revealed last month that 40 councillors, including some Tories, had been written to by the district auditor asking for their views because he intended to name them in his report.