On Selective Scrutiny And Stewardship Of Public Funds

”Stewardship of Public Funds”

The WLBC “Statement of Accounts shows our financial performance and financial position for the year. These accounts have been prepared in accordance with the regulations that govern our financial affairs and demonstrate the council’s stewardship of public funds”. Yet the West Lancashire Borough Council owned Beacon Park Golf Course landfill royalty saga is as bad a breach of planning consent and stewardship of the funds involved as you might see in West Lancashire, or anywhere.

West Lancashire Borough Council issued “Audit of Accounts – Notice of Public Rights. Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 and the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015

“Notice is given that from 3 June 2019 to 12 July 2019 between 9.30am and 4.30pm Mondays to Fridays, any person interested may on reasonable notice inspect and make copies of the accounts of the Council for the year ended 31 March 2019 and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts, except as provided for in Section 26(4) to 26(6) of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 in relation to commercially confidential and personal information.

“Notice is given that within the above period any such elector may make objections to the auditor, under section 27 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, relating to any matter where the auditor could take action under:

“Section 24 and paragraph 1 of Schedule 7 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act, namely, to make a report in the public interest; and/ or Section 28 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, namely to apply to the court for a declaration that an item in the accounts is contrary to law”. Marc Taylor Borough Treasurer.

But it seems the external auditors are unhappy

“West Lancashire Borough Council Statement of Accounts Notice of Delayed Audit Opinion. The audit of the 2018/19 statement of accounts, annual governance statement and narrative statement has been delayed and therefore notice is given that the accounts will not be signed or an audit opinion issued by 31 July 2019. The delay is due to issues raised by the auditors which require additional audit work to be undertaken before the audit can be concluded.

“The Council will publish the statement of accounts together with the audit certificate or opinion entered by the auditor as soon as reasonably practicable after the receipt of any report from the auditor which contains the auditor’s final findings from the audit which is issued before the conclusion of the audit. This notice is in compliance with the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015 in relation to the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014”. Marc Taylor Borough Treasurer West Lancashire Borough Council.

Surely it is now pertinent to ask that if the auditors have raised “issues”, cannot the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill royalties/VAT become “an issue” too?

WLBC has a written policy 

“Anti-Fraud, Bribery and Corruption Policy that commits it to combating fraud, bribery, corruption or abuse of position for personal gain, whether the perpetrators are internal OR EXTERNAL to the Authority”. Which part of it does WLBC believe does NOT apply to the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill operation by the EXTERNAL Serco Leisure Operating Ltd and Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd?

The Anti-Fraud, Bribery and Corruption Policy has been devised to “promote a culture of integrity and accountability in all employees, elected members, partners, CONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS OF GOODS AND SERVICES”. The Authority’s expectation, and indeed the public’s, regarding propriety and accountability, is that Members and Employees, at all levels, will lead by example in ensuring adherence to all Council regulations, codes of conduct, procedures and practices. Does WLBC believe that the public’s expectation of a culture of integrity and accountability does NOT apply to the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill operation?

WLBC used a “Get out of jail card”

by use of “Freedom of Information Request 2018 / 885 – Request for Internal Review. In response to your email dated 21st December 2018 which requests an internal review of West Lancashire District Council’s handling of your FOI request entitled ‘Beacon Park Golf Course Membership Contracts’ ref 2018 / 885. In completing this review I have referred to your original request along with the response provided by Steve Kent on 21st December 2018. In your original request you made reference to “changes to membership contract terms and conditions to take effect from 1 December 2018”. You continued to ask “will WLBC Leisure Department intervene to publish the new terms and conditions on the WLBC website rather than expect golf club members to rely on Serco Leisure for this vital information”.

“You were subsequently advised by Steve Kent that the Council does not hold the information referred to in your request, namely “changes to membership contract terms and conditions to take effect from 1 December 2018”. The Freedom of Information Act only relates to recorded information held by public authorities. WLBC does not hold the information you have requested and therefore it is not possible to publish the terms and conditions on the WLBC website. Furthermore the membership contract terms and conditions form an agreement between the applicant and Serco and WLBC are not party to this agreement. It would therefore not be appropriate to publish this information on the WLBC website. For the reasons stated above I am satisfied that your request for information was handled correctly”.

The application seeks retention of increased levels on the site. This amounts to an estimated 16,000 m3 [or 40,00 m3, see below] over the site. There is still no apparent intention for penalties against SLOL and OGLL for their illegal operation of the golf course development. The two companies are the only apparent beneficiaries of the landfill royalty income. This application worsens that landfill royalty abuse by agreeing to retain the illegal excess material on the course. By Serco’s own admission, in a meeting attended by its senior management with the Beacon Park Golf Club members’ management committee, 40,000 cubic metres of landfill have to be removed off the old driving range area

The same name and address on a BPGC planning development application 2016/0040/FUL was, you’ve guessed it, Oakland Golf And Leisure Limited, 20 Rockery Road Leeds LS18 5AS.

From WLBC “Contractors started on site in November 2013 [for the 9hole course]. The first sections of topsoil were moved back and deliveries of the inert materials commenced at the end of November 2013”.

 

So what happened to the elusive royalties

declared in public by the Head of Leisure and Cultural Services West Lancashire Borough Council that “The royalties for the materials being brought to site and currently used to re-profile an area of the golf course for a new 9 hole par 3 course are paid to West Lancashire Community Leisure”? But the Leisure Trust auditors themselves refused to disclose if that was true. Not that it mattered, as Serco publicly admitted it was THEY who were receiving the royalties. The Head of Leisure and Cultural Services was in ignorance of the facts.

In December 2015 the Head of Leisure and Cultural Services West Lancashire Borough Council, John Nelson, wrote “The contractors have started to bringing material to site ready for the access to the driving range to be provided. The driving range will then accommodate up to 35,000m3”.

And he also wrote “Planning officers and officers from the Environment Agency both undertake monitoring functions in relation to the site. The planning officers in relation to the general conditions under the planning approval and the Environment Agency in relation to the permit and licence for Oaklands [Golf and] Leisure Limited for the importation of materials on to the site.

“I also have a responsibility as the land falls under the leisure provision for the Council. Although the facilities are leased to West Lancashire Community Leisure [Serco controlled] the land and buildings belong to the Borough Council.

“I retain a dialogue with Planning Officers and the Environment Agency to keep an overview of the development works and meet with the Trustees for West Lancashire Community Leisure (Leisure Trust) and their operating partner Serco Leisure Operating Limited”.

As we wrote “SLOL is not renowned for its golf course design and management, but give it a sniff of untold quantities of landfill royalties, hide them under “Commercial in Confidence” rights and SLOL is like a weasel down a rabbit hole, along with its partner in landfill Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd, now long gone with its share”.

From a start in November 2013 to today, November 2019, who in their right mind believes that not only has West Lancashire Borough Council acted negligently but been obscure too? And who believes auditors should be telling us landfill royalties and VAT resulting from a WLBC, taxpayer,  owned not be accountable and made transparent?

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