'We can only challenge what we're told about': ex-South Ribble Council committee chair defends work
The former chair of a key South Ribble Borough Council committee has defended its work under his charge after it was criticised for failing to help identify serious shortcomings at the authority.
Alan Ogilvie said that the council’s governance committee, which he chaired until May 2019, had been the target of “totally unjustified” remarks by one of South Ribble’s most senior officers.
After members of the cross-party group approved a draft version of last year’s AGS – which claimed that procedures in place at the council to ensure transparency were robust – the document was later found to have significant flaws. External auditors declined to sign off the statement or that year’s accounts.
A series of damning internal audit reports, published last month, laid out a litany of failures at the authority, including breaches of rules governing the awarding of contracts.
Cllr Ogilvie accepted that the issues raised were “of serious concern and need addressing”. However, he defended how his former committee had discharged its duties.
“[This is] an unwarranted attempt to transfer the blame for the inaccuracies in the 2018/19 AGS onto the hardworking…Labour and Conservative members sitting on that committee.
“In referring to a perceived lack of challenge from members…I can only conclude that whoever constructed this [report] did not attend the governance committee [that year].
“As committee members, we can only challenge the facts and figures as presented in the reports and the answers given in response to questions.
“We’re not expected to be experts and cannot be expected to identify omissions or all incidences of incorrect or inaccurate information given to us,” said Cllr Ogilvie, adding that a former senior officer at the council had once complained that challenges from the governance committee were “too robust”.
Mr. Moister – who took up his role at South Ribble three months ago – said that he did not intend to suggest that there had been no challenge at all from the governance committee, but stood by his conclusion that it fell short of the level that was required.
“The simple fact is that the governance committee approved, in draft form, the AGS which then proved to be wholly incorrect – it’s as simple as that.
“I don’t want to suggest that all the blame for that should sit with members of the committee, as it certainly shouldn’t. I accept that you are there to test the information,” he added.
The full council approved this year’s AGS, which acknowledges past failings and sets out how the authority is attempting to put them right.
Council leader Paul Foster said every member should be “appalled” by what had been uncovered.
“What we need to do now is embrace this and take responsibility – and move forward to deal with the issues. Honesty and integrity is critical for us all.”
Cllr Foster said he accepted that the governance committee could not be held accountable if it had not been provided with the correct information to scrutinise.
However, he criticised the way a meeting of the group in July 2018 – at which external auditors issued a “statutory recommendation” to improve areas of the council’s performance – had been dominated by questions about “the validity” of that assessment, “rather than getting to the point of why we had actually got ourselves into that position in the first place”.