Council says it has learned lessons of disastrous £21m Amey dispute

Eddie Martin: was not told of decision to withhold Amey's final payment.
Eddie Martin: was not told of decision to withhold Amey's final payment.
13 September 2017 7:48AM

Cumbria County Council today insisted it has learned the necessary lessons from a disastrous legal dispute with roads contractor Amey that left the authority with a £21m legal bill.

The council's audit and assurance committee yesterday considered the findings and recommendations of an Amey Lessons Learned Report following a review by the chief executive of another local authority.

The committee welcomed the report and agreed an action plan.

Amey delivered a major contract for highways services worth over £272m between 2005 and 2012, but some councillors were unhappy with aspects of their work.

Unidentified council officers made the decision to withhold the final £4.6m payment to Amey as a result, triggering the costly legal dispute.

A High Court judge eventually ruled in Amey's favour.

The debacle last week prompted Carlisle MP John Stevenson to call for an independent forensic review of what went wrong.

The MP said their had been a breakdown in leadership and governance.

But Cumbria County Council said the authority had asked the chief executive of a local authority in Cheshire to oversee the review so the process was "independent, robust and thorough."

Councillor Hilary Carrick said: “As chair of audit and assurance committee, I welcome this report, its recommendations and the accompanying action plan.

“The committee has considered the report in detail at today’s meeting and has received assurances that the process has been thorough and robust.

“I am confident that we have fully considered the recommendations. What is now important is that the council focuses its efforts on implementing the agreed action plan and delivering those improvements going forward.

"The committee will review progress against the action plan on a regular basis to assure itself of delivery.”

Katherine Fairclough, chief executive of Cumbria County Council, responding to the committee’s decision said: “As a council we are committed to delivering the very best services possible for the people of Cumbria.

"We want to ensure that our services provide value for money for Cumbria’s residents.

"The lessons learned process was detailed and comprehensive. We are fully committed to learning from this. The audit and assurance committee has today considered the report and the action plan.

"Committee members heard the commitment from senior officers, and myself, to deliver the action plan and that steps have already been taken to respond to the recommendations in the report.”

The review was overseen by David Parr, chief executive of Halton Borough Council.

He said: “I support the proactive and transparent approach taken by the county council regarding the Amey lessons learned process.

"My role as the senior external peer has been to bring some independent, external scrutiny to the lessons learned process.

"The lessons learned process has been comprehensive, thorough and robust. The final report provides an accurate review of the history, identifies the lessons to be learned and includes a number of recommendations.

"From the outset, I have been impressed that the council has shown maturity and honesty to proactively progress a lessons learned review.

"It is my considered professional opinion that the review process has been comprehensive, rigorous, transparent and robust.

"I have seen evidence that progress has already been made in a number of areas and it is now important that the council progresses the recommendations and delivers the associated action plan to ensure effective and sustainable change is achieved.”

Mr Stevenson said of the council's handling of the issue: “It's financial ineptitute of the worst kind.

"Decisions should be properly made and accounted for. If those involved are found to be wanting they should be called to account.”

The Tax Payers' Alliance last week described the council's handling of the Amey dispute as “extraordinary incompetence.”

The council said officials do not know who made the decision to withhold Amey's final £4.6m payment in 2012.

At the time, the Leader of the Council was Eddie Martin, a Conservative, and his deputy was Labour's Stewart Young.

Mr Young, who is the current council leader, was politically responsible for finance and revenue in 2012.

The council also this week declined to say which councillors were told of the non-payment decision, though the decision was was not discussed by the authority's cabinet.

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