Council accused of ‘slumber on the job’ of duplicate payments

Chichester's County Hall SUS-160818-125926001
Chichester's County Hall SUS-160818-125926001

The county council has been accused of ‘slumber on the job’ when dealing with potential duplicate payments by UKIP councillors.

Sandra James, UKIP group leader, has passed on eight samples where she believes more than £129,000 may have been paid twice by West Sussex County Council, and argued that the problem was ‘much larger’ than previous answers suggested at a meeting last Friday (March 24).

The authority engaged a company to investigate duplicate payments and a report was completed in 2013, but a dispute then arose between the two parties.

In December 2016 the council asked a new firm Meridian Cost Benefit to undertake a review of all third-party payment transactions within SAP, the system which manages council procurement, initially looking back to April 2011 onwards.

Mike Glennon (UKIP, Lancing) said: “We had an excellent supplier up until December 2013 investigating a whole litany of erroneous overpayments, duplicate payments, call it what you like, and they came back with a report, there was a dispute and that supplier was shunned thereafter.”

He asked: “Can she [leader Louise Goldsmith] explain what she did from early 2014 knowing that duplicate payments had been identified since it appears from her answer to the written question that she did nothing from December 2013 to January 2015?”

The county council subsequently clarified that it was in legal dispute with the original supplier for non-delivery of the service which is why the contract was terminated.

Mr Glennon added: “I’m mystified seemingly by the amount of slumber on the job when there’s county council money outstanding. We have got evidence it’s been overpaid, duplicated, and yet in that period nothing was done.

“It’s the slumber, it’s the lack of activity that has shocked us here in the UKIP group from that moment we became involved in helping investigate this, which hitherto seemingly nobody was taking particularly seriously.”

Mrs Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West) said they were ‘very committed and have been for a long time on duplicate payments’, but suggested the headline figure would not be the one resolved at the end.

She added: “There has been no sleeping, there has been nothing. At that time there was a dispute and I have been working with the head of legal services and afterwards it was taken up with the cabinet member for finance and it has been taken up with the director of finance as well.”

She described Mr Glennon’s speech as ‘thoughts, but not realities’, adding: “This is obviously very concerning and we need to take it very seriously and we need to deal with it, but as I said sometimes the headline figures once we drill into them are not quite the same but of course they do not make quite the headlines wen you’re out on the doorsteps.”

Mrs Goldsmith also explained that of the £129,000 mentioned, a total of £65,000 ‘has been sought and the rest is out to chase again’.

In response to our article, Nathan Elvery, chief executive of the county council, said today (Thursday March 30) said: “The issue of potential duplicate payments has been looked at in extensive detail by the Regulation, Audit and Accounts Committee (RAAC).

“Councillors have looked at the current systems to prevent duplicate payments being made as well as processes to detect and recover any duplicate payments that are inadvertently made. The committee has noted that the current systems, that have been in place for some time, are robust.

“As would be prudent, an external contractor has been engaged to review transactions to detect any other recoverable amounts including unclaimed VAT, credits and duplicate payments. Initial findings from this exercise were discussed at the County Council’s RAAC meeting in March 2017 and the committee members have committed to making sure the matter is dealt with fully.”

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