Saturday, 5 December 2009

Nick Tiratsoo to Councillor Robbins

This blog is usually only concerned with transport policy issues. But sometimes other kinds of ordure intrude into the paradise that is the London Borough of Waltham Forest. This letter is well worth giving more publicity than it will otherwise get as a comment on a news item in the local paper’s website:

The £250,000 referred to in this story is just the tip of the iceberg.

I sent the following to Councillor Robbins on 03/12/09, and await an answer.

Dear Councillor Robbins,

In 2006, the LBWF's Better Neighbourhoods Initiative (BNI) team contracted to pay EduAction nearly £1m to run two programmes under the rubric Educational Attainment – ‘Late Arrivals Project’ and ‘Project 100/Vision 12’.

Regarding this contract, subsequent investigations have established that:

1. It was illegitimately procured, as admitted by Mr Roger Taylor, interim chief executive, in a letter to me of 29 July 2008.

2. There was considerable uncertainty about its true value, which was variously recorded as £932532, £804732, and £914428.

3. Whether it was legally formalised remains to be established, since when PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) later investigated, it was only able to locate a 'photocopy' of a contract which 'seemed' – PWC’s word - to refer inter alia to ‘Late Arrivals Project’ and ‘Project 100/Vision 12’.

4. PWC record final approval as having been given by Mr. Rob Pearce, who later joined Renaisi.

5. PWC found the programmes to have been only inconsistently monitored and audited, so that there must be substantial uncertainty about what was really achieved.

I note also that, when subsequently queried about these matters, LBWF repeatedly refused to respond, so that, for example, it took 11 (eleven) separate written inquiries about the contract’s procurement, stretching over the course of approximately a calendar year, before Mr Taylor made the admission cited in point 1, above.

Two questions arise.

First, in a letter dated 10 August 2008, Mr Roger Taylor told me, under the heading ‘Re: BNI EduAction Contract of 2006’ that a ‘disciplinary investigation’ was ‘well underway’. Please will you detail what this has found?

Second, since you were portfolio holder for education at this time, and no doubt a conscientious one at that, who knew all about the major programmes that were unfolding, please will you explain when you first became aware of this contract’s unusual features, and what you then did about them?

One final observation. The independent panel advises that a line should be drawn under many of the NRF programme’s flaws and failures, citing in particular Dr Foster. I am sure most sensible people will agree.
But a million pounds is a million pounds, and so I am afraid that the legitimate questions posed here cannot so easily be disposed of.

Yours truly,

Nick Tiratsoo