Wessex report withheld 'for legal reasons'

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The Independent Online
WESSEX REGIONAL Health Authority, which lost up to pounds 63m of public funds by mismanaging computer contracts, insisted yesterday that only legal reasons prevented it publishing the full detail of an investigation by the District Auditor.

It was at a press conference called in response to articles over the past week in the Independent and Computer Weekly which revealed secret sections of the report. The money was wasted between 1982 and 1990 as the authority embarked on an ultimately aborted attempt to link all health service facilities by a single computer system.

Ken Jarrold, regional general manager of the health authority, said yesterday that by the time the auditor's reports were completed in July 1992, police investigations were pending, and the authority did not want to prejudice possible civil actions to recover damages from private firms involved in the scandal. Both legal channels were still active, he said.

He also said that the Local Government Finance Act prevented disclosure of the information contained in the confidential reports 'without the consent of the persons to whom the information relates'.

The version of the auditor's report which the authority had published had set out all the major areas of public concern, he said.

The report does not mention the role of the former Conservative minister Lord Jenkin (formerly Patrick Jenkin), who in 1986 acted as business adviser to the consultants Arthur Andersen & Co, and lobbied on their behalf jointly with IBM to implement the first, pounds 26m stage of the computer plan. The package he backed came fourth in the list of tenders but was given the contract.

Asked whether the consent of the people mentioned in the report had been requested, Mr Jarrold said he understood that it had not. The authority considered it unlikely to be given.

But he said he had no doubt the authority's chairman, Sir Robin Buchanan, who was involved in several important stages of the disastrous scheme after taking over in 1988, would give his consent to publication of the full details of the report.

Mr Jarrold insisted Sir Robin would not resign over his part in the affair. He had accepted responsibility publicly last summer. It was put to him that Sir Robin had personally renegotiated a disastrous contract in 1990. Mr Jarrold said this had been an attempt to improve matters, but had been unsuccessful.

The Independent discovered that Sir Robin had approached a computer supplier for a loan to help to keep the region's computer programme going, but the Treasury refused to authorise it. Mr Jarrold confirmed this.

Mr Jarrold said: 'In all judgements of life you have to look at the overall record of somebody, and not just look at one or two decisions which were incorrect.'

(Photograph omitted)