Posted: Thu 29th Jun 2023

Swansea Council fails to follow own rules over £950,000 worth of fleet payments

news.wales / newyddion.cymru
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Jun 29th, 2023

Swansea Council didn’t comply with its own contract rules when it paid nearly £950,000 to vehicle repair and rental companies last year, a report said. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

There was no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the fleet maintenance department, but the contract compliance issue had been flagged up on four previous occasions dating back to 2008-09,  according to the council’s governance and audit committee. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

A meeting of the committee became somewhat terse when council leader Rob Stewart rebuked one its members, Phil Sharman, for his line of questioning, claiming he overstepped the mark. Mr Sharman said the committee’s role was about “providing suitable challenge and scrutiny”. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The meeting heard that in-house audit staff checked all companies which were paid more than £10,000 by the council’s fleet maintenance department in 2022-23. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

There were 17 of them, and they received £947,128 for the work they did. The audit staff found that no contract was in place and that relevant waivers hadn’t been completed. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Since then several waivers have been completed, resulting in the amount deemed non-compliant falling to £350,000. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The committee was told the fleet department carried out many repairs to the 850-strong council fleet, as well as maintenance, but that it was a small and stretched team. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Stuart Davies, head of highways and transportation, said many of the suppliers were specialists – for example in the repair of refuse vehicles – and that in these instances the council couldn’t go out to other companies for contracts. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Mr Davies also said he wanted to avoid the risk of council vehicles not being safe or fit for purpose. “It is accepted that in some cases the forms have not been filled out before the work was done,” he said. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Cllr Jeff Jones said he recognised there was a “time critical” element of fleet maintenance work but “that it does not excuse, shall we say, the non-compliance”. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The meeting heard that non-compliance could have a reputational risk for the council and leave it open to a challenge – while also not guaranteeing to the public that best value for money was being achieved – although there was no evidence to suggest this was the case in this instance. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Cllr Lesley Walton said she sympathised with the pressure the fleet maintenance section was under but felt that reputation was often to do with perception. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Mr Sharman – a lay committee member – said he was not persuaded by the “excuses” that the fleet department, which spends around £9 million per year, was too busy to comply with the contract rules. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

He said compliance was not optional but a requirement. It was like a school focusing on teaching over the requirement to carry out staff disclosure and barring service checks, he said. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Mr Davies said he took exception to the word “excuses” and that the  school comparison was not appropriate. Mr Sharman said he would have more sympathy if this was a new issue. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Cllr Stewart then addressed the committee, saying he took on board the points raised but insisting that the issues were being addressed. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

He also said he would prefer to “temporarily stand outside financial measures” than risk council vehicles causing a serious accident or loss of life. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The Swansea Labour leader then asked members to show decorum in addressing officers, adding that he felt recent questions “did overstep the mark” and that some of the comparisons used were “quite outrageous”. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Mr Sharman said: “No disrespect was intended – this was about providing suitable challenge and scrutiny on the issues before us.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The audit of the fleet maintenance department resulted in a “moderate” assurance level – the second lowest of four categories. Its performance in a number of areas though was satisfactory. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The committee also heard that fleet maintenance fitters earned a lot of overtime pay, which fluctuated with demand and was monitored closely. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

By BBC LDRS ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​



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