MEMBERS of the Thurrock Council Standards and Audit Committee slammed a council decision to censure a controversial report into financial management at Tilbury Manor primary school.
Members were presented with a report that had three pages removed. Council lawyer, Fiona Taylor explained that the pages were removed on the grounds of “Data protection and human rights.”
Ms Taylor explained that the report on the council website had been redacted and paper copies had also been amended.
This did not appear to sit well with the committee.
Cllr Simon Wootton said: “This does not seem to make sense. I have already read a newspaper article on this report.
The chair of the committee, cllr Tunde Ojetola was even more direct in his criticism.
Cllr Ojetola said: “I am both concerned and disappointed that this has been redacted. I only found out at 5pm that these changes had been made. The document has been sitting on the council website for seven days.
After an adjournment, the committee continued to probe the report.
The reports author from RM Tenons, Graham Clifford gave an overview where he made reference and recommendations to the tendering process that had been in operation at the school and a number of contracts.
Cllr Wootton asked if any cash irregularities had been dealt with appropriately.
Cllr Ojetola was now even more direct. He said: “This is a real mess up. If I was a parent at this school, I would be seriously concerned. Any money going to the school should be going towards the children.
The committee directed many of their questions to the outgoing director of childrens services, Jo Olsson.
Ms Olsson explained to the committee that their attention was first drawn to the school in 2012 regarding standards and achievement issues.
Ms Olsson pledged that there was and would continue to be regular monitoring of the school.
Cllr Ojetola returned to the subject of the censured information.
He said: “I am very frustrated that we cannot ask certain questions.”
In a final twist, as the meeting took place, an original copy of the report, with all the parts that could contravene “human rights and data protection” was sitting in the meetings rack in the reception area of the council building.
The council were made aware of this. Sixteen hours later, as reporters from the Thurrock Gazette, Thurrock Enquirer and YourThurrock attended a press briefing in the civic offices; the unexpurgated agenda was still sitting there.
After the meeting, Audit committee chair Cllr Tunde Ojetola said “The council’s handling of this report has been appalling. You cannot publish a document online for all the world to see for a week and then attempt to cover it up – especially from councillors. You certainly can’t try to cover it up from councillors whilst leaving a printed copy in reception for anyone to read.
“The report outlines serious financial failings at Manor Primary School in Tilbury, and potentially identifies thousands of pounds of taxpayers money spent inappropriately. This is a serious matter of concern to councillors, parents and residents of Thurrock; and the last minute attempts at what looks like a cover-up do not sit well with Audits job of holding the council to account.
“The council will need to learn lessons – both from the content of the report, as well as from their poor handling of its publication.”