UKIP take Ockendon Academy procurement probe to EU

THURROCK MEP, David Campbell-Bannerman (UKIP) is set to table a question to the European Union that may see Thurrock Council face a multi-million pound fine.

In January 2010, an independent report by auditors Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) pointed to a number of serious anomalies in the procurement procedures with respect to the building of the then Ockendon School.

Amongst the discrepencies was a contract which was worth £3.6 million did not follow strict EU procurement procedures. All contracts over £3.5 million must do so.

Concerns at that time were so great that the then council leader Terry Hipsey and interim chief exec Mike Rowan went to Grays Police Station to meet the Fraud Squad.

The contract went to building firm Haymills who eventually went bust before they could finish the job. This left the school, according to staff, like a building site but also had the consequence that this delayed other work in the school. The school set aside money for that but now that the school has become an Academy, the council is in the process of trying to take that money back.

Since the PWC report, Thurrock Council has radically improved its procurement procedure.

A spokesperson said: “The Council requested an independent review of procurement practice for three contracts in 2008 and has acted on the findings in conjunction with the Audit Commission. The findings of the independent review were reported in full to members at the time

“The council has made significant improvements since this review with a new constitution and procurement policy, managers trained on both, and a strengthened procurement team providing expertise and capacity to ensure compliance with the new rules.

UKIP have defended accusations that this is simply political posturing and trying to remind the public of controversies that occured during the Conservative adminstration.

UKIP Thurrock spokesperson Tim Aker said: “This isn’t about political point scoring. There are still genuine concerns about the procurement procedure and whether it is restrictive.

“We do not believe we have had sufficent answers over this particular question. The council may or not be liable for a fine. If that was a council tax defaulter then the council wouldn’t blink at possibly making that person bankrupt. What’s good for the goose.

“If it does face a penalty then we are sure that a restructuring of senior management salaries and a cut in councillors allowances will go a long way to helping.

Thurrock Council confirmed that it has not informed the EU about the non-compliance.

Procurement experts believe that the council could face a fine of between £3 and £10 million whilst others believe that the council’s reformation of the procurement procedure should appease their colleagues in Brussels.

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