Corruption probe continues

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An investigation over alleged corruption at East Renfrewshire Council is still ongoing, months after it was first exposed.

In July, it was revealed that dealings between a council employee and now liquidated Clarkston company Premier Tree Surgeons were being probed.

It came after lawyers for Ayrshire Tree Surgeons made a formal complaint to the council claiming that the staff member took financial incentives in exchange for awarding jobs to Premier Tree Surgeons.

This week, the local authority’s chief auditor Michelle Blair will present a report to councillors, confirming that the case is still being probed.

She will point to her internal audit for last year, which said: “There has been a failure to award work in compliance with the framework agreement and this has resulted in additional cost to the council and legal challenge from one of the contractors within the framework.

“This issue was initially brought to my attention by a director.

“Internal audit investigated the matter and issued a management report and all recommendations were accepted.

“There is currently a disciplinary investigation of an employee being undertaken and due to this and the possible identification of the individual employee concerned, there is a limit to how much information which can be provided at this time but more detail could be brought to a future audit and scrutiny committee.

“It is audit’s opinion that there was a possible breach of contract conditions which resulted in best value not being achieved, there was a lack of segregation of duties in award of work and a lack of clarity of costs invoiced to the council and how these agree to contract rates.”

It is understood that Ayrshire Tree Surgeons demanded the council stump-up £160,000 for work they allegedly missed out on.

They were awarded the highest rank during the tendering process for arboriculture work in East Renfrewshire last year.

That rank meant that they were the priority contractor when the council needed hedges and trees planted, removed or pruned.

But they claimed that they were being overlooked and work was being given instead to the second-ranked contractor, which was Premier Tree Surgeons.

That has previously been denied by Premier Tree Surgeons who described the claims as “absolute nonsense”.

Ms Blair will also list a series of failures that were brought to her attention but she will give assurances that the council’s governance, risk management and internal control were effective and adequate last year.

She will add: “Contract standing orders have not been complied with for exemptions and variations.

“Controls to prevent duplicate creditor payments being made were not operating properly resulting in significant overpayments being made.

“Controls over changing of supplier bank details were not operating properly which exposed the council to the risk of erroneous payments being made.

“It is my opinion, except for the matters described in the qualified opinion paragraph above, that reasonable assurance can be placed upon the adequacy and effectiveness of the Council’s framework of governance, risk management and internal control for the year ended March 31, 2018.”