Council's 2 million pounds loss to be investigated

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The Independent Online
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BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, the only Conservative-controlled county council in the country, has asked the Audit Commission to investigate how the direct labour organisation running its roads unit managed to 'lose' nearly 2m in the past 18 months.

On Tuesday, the council's policy and resources committee, meeting in private, decided to call in the commission to conduct 'a wide-ranging investigation' into the unit's collapse.

The unit, which is responsible for roads maintenance, repair, winter salting and snow clearance, lost 1.27m in the year to April and is expected to lose a further 700,000 in the six months to November. It was losing money at the rate of 100,000 a month on the work it won in competition with private contractors.

A spokesman for the council said yesterday: 'The department appears to have incurred massive costs which were not covered by the money they were allocated in the council's budget. The books just don't balance.'

There is no suggestion of corruption but the council is worried about financial and management practices and competence.

The losses were discovered in June and three senior council officers - two in the roads unit and one manager from within the direct services organisation - were suspended. They remain off work.

The council has already conducted its own internal inquiry into the losses and has received an independent report from a former county surveyor which highlighted a number of management problems.

The Audit Commission has been invited to conduct a further inquiry.

Next month, the work of the roads unit will be transferred to a new private company; 138 of the unit's employees will transfer to the firm and 17 others will take voluntary redundancy.