We have our first response to an email regarding the Bundred Report into Bristol City Council’s latest financial shambles. The Reverend Rees’s ever-fragrant and competent Monitoring Officer, Shahzia “DIM” Daya has replied to Avonmouth resident Ian Robinson. The correspondence is published in full below.
Ian wrote to the council’s Section 151 Officer – who’s legally responsible for the sound financial management of our local authority – saying, “It would appear to me (a reasonable man) that there would appear to have been a co-ordinated attempt to influence the election results by SUPPRESSING the scale of the BUDGETARY DEFICIT.”
Despite not being the Section 151 Officer, Ms Dim has replied anyway, which raises a further question. Does Ms Dim have a CONFLICT OF INTEREST here? Because Ian’s querying the conduct of the council’s ‘CHANGE BOARD‘ from the summer of 2015 through to May 2016 and, according to our research team, Ms Daya was a member of this very board!
A minute from a Bristol City Council Cabinet Meeting from 1 July 2014 explains, “the Change Board has been working since 1 October 2013, initially consisting of the Senior Leadership Team and Service Director Project Leads and is now expanded to include ALL SERVICE DIRECTORS as of February 2014.” While Bristol City Council’s staff structure table for DECEMBER 2015 clearly indicates that Ms Dim was SERVICE DIRECTOR: Legal and Democratic Services at the time.
QED: Ms Dim was a member of the ‘Change Board’ when they were involved in the budget-setting process in question.
But have we got this all wrong? As it’s only a month ago that Steve “Sticky” Bundred published his FIRST REPORT for Bristol City Council into its crap management of the Green Capital fiasco. The one where he criticised Mayor No-More Redpants and Chief Exec No-More Nicola “Lady Gaga” Yates over their CONFLICTS OF INTEREST!
What hope do we really have for Bristol City Council learning the lessons of Bundred’s LATEST REPORT if they haven’t even learned the lessons of his LAST REPORT?
Anyway, given Ms Dim’s intense PERSONAL and PECUNIARY interest in a positive outcome for senior city council officers in regards to this emerging scandal, it’s hardly surprising she’s quickly concluded to Ian that, “the [Bundred] report does not imply any criminal act had taken place or that there was any attempt by any officer or elected official to influence the election.”
Her EVIDENCE for this claim is that Sticky Bundred says on page 21 of his report, ” it appears that there was a tacit understanding within SLT that contentious decisions should not be asked of politicians before the Mayoral and Council elections scheduled for May 2016. Although I have seen no evidence that the Mayor or council Members were explicitly conveying this message.”
All very interesting, but what does what MESSAGE wasn’t being CONVEYED by the MAYOR or council Members regarding “contentious decisions” have to do with whether politically neutral SENIOR BOSSES “co-ordinated [an] attempt to INFLUENCE the election results by suppressing the scale of the budgetary deficit”?
Ian’s enquiry was also about the conduct of officers, not just politicians. And the evidence against these officers in the Bundred Report is OVERWHELMING. Here’s ten examples we’ve plucked out of the report [with our comments in brackets].
Rest assured there’s many, many more examples:
Page 4: “Substantial non-delivery of the £112m agreed MTFS [Medium Term Financial Strategy] savings was wholly predictable.”
[So why didn’t officers predict it to councillors then?]
Pages 13 – 14: “I believe the most charitable construction that can be placed on the confusion in formal reports on the progress of the Change Programme is that several senior officers outside the Finance Directorate simply did not understand the budgetary management implications of slippage in the delivery of Change Programme savings, or the underlying assumptions on which the budgets which authorised them to incur expenditure had been prepared.”
[How about the uncharitable construction? That confusion in formal reports provided to councillors was deliberately misleading to disguise losses.]
Page 14: Yet the 2016/17 budget, agreed by the full Council only three days earlier, had assumed delivery in full, not merely of the planned £35.4m additional savings to be achieved in the coming year, in respect of which there was a clear statement at paragraph 3.61 that: “the combined budget reductions from the various savings streams total £35.4m in 2016/17. It is assumed that these savings will be delivered in full.”
[An outright lie by senior officers to the Full Council Budget Meeting]
Page 14: Similarly, the Quarter 3 Finance Report for the 2015/16 financial year, presented to Cabinet on 1 March 2016, only two weeks after the 2016/17 Budget report had explicitly assumed delivery in full of the savings agreed as part of the 2015/16 Budget and with less than a month of the financial year remaining, contains a table which shows that of the £31.005m savings agreed by the Council a year earlier, the delivery of some £16.2m was rated by the relevant managers as amber or red. Yet the Executive Summary, which I have been told was not written by the person who was responsible for the body of the report states: “The net savings proposals for the year, agreed by the Council in February 2015 totalled £31m and are on track to be delivered.”
[Misleading report to Cabinet doctored by manager unknown]
Page 44: I have seen other evidence too of delivery risks associated with the Change Programme being understood but not reported. For example, on 11 June 2015 the Service Director, HR and the Service Director, Business Change and ICT met with the then City Director and the Strategic Director, Business Change to express concerns that benefits from the Change Programme were “drifting”. As an outcome of this meeting the Service Director HR then drafted an approach to a second tranche of workforce reductions which was eventually put to the Change Board for approval in September 2015, but I have been unable to locate any report to the Mayor or Council Members informing them of this.
[Outright evidence of officers withholding information from councillors (and the public)]
Page 29: “In the case of the 2016/17 budget there were initial discussions within SLT and the Change Board on 4 August 2015 which identified a likely significant budget gap.”
[Evidence that officers knew about the budget gap in August 2015, six months before they allowed an inaccurate budget to be set]
Page 30: “Politically sensitive proposals which officers nevertheless considered to be necessary were excluded from the budget consultation document.”
[Evidence that unknown officers tampered with the budget consultation process for the public]
Page 31: “it was not made clear to Members that, as indicated above, the 2016/17 budget included unallocated savings of £32.1m
[Wholly misleading budget information supplied to councillors by officers]
Pages 33 – 34 Highly unusually, the minutes of this meeting are headed “CONFIDENTIAL – CHANGE BOARD ATTENDEES ONLY” and the minutes do not record either of the two interim s.151 officers who held that post on that day as having been present.
[Minutes from January 19 2016 outlining the true situation with regard to the budget are kept confidential and away from councillors, the public and the legally responsible Section 151 Officer]
Page 34: “a presentation was made to the Change Board on 8 March 2016. This identified under-delivery of previous years’ savings targets totalling £18.9m, which together with the target of £35.4m included in the 2016/17 budget meant a requirement for in-year savings of £54.3m against a budget of £342.0m. This was therefore known within the Council before the commencement of the 2016/17 financial year. The Change Board six monthly monitoring report to Cabinet on 5 April 2016 acknowledged the difficulties for the first time but did not mention that the savings requirement had risen to £54m and it remained optimistic in its tone.”
[Post budget ‘optimistic’ finance reports being produced by officers in the lead up to the election]
From: Shahzia Daya <email@example.com>
To: ‘ian robinson’; Mayor <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Editor at Bristol News <email@example.com>; The Bristolian . <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Steven Norman <email@example.com>; Charlotte LESLIE <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Councillor Donald Alexander <Cllr.Donald.Alexander@bristol.gov.uk>; Councillor Jo Sergeant <Cllr.Jo.Sergeant@bristol.gov.uk>
Sent: Thursday, 16 February 2017, 19:17
Subject: RE: Section 151 Officer – attempt to influence election
Thank you for your email. For clarity I am not the council’s Section 151 Officer which is the statutory post responsible for finance. I am the council’s Monitoring Officer which is a separate role concerned with conduct, legality and the council’s constitution.
I can confirm that Mr Bundred’s report was provided to senior police officials (the Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner) for their information. There was no request to investigate as the report does not imply any criminal act had taken place or that there was any attempt by any officer or elected official to influence the election. You may be of the opinion that there was a ‘co-ordinated attempt to influence the election results’ but this is not what the report says. The relevant paragraph states:
“In the event, it appears that there was a tacit understanding within SLT that contentious decisions should not be asked of politicians before the Mayoral and Council elections scheduled for May 2016. Although I have seen no evidence that the Mayor or council Members were explicitly conveying this message, it is possible, but now unverifiable, that there was a complicit parallel failure on the part of politicians to ask challenging questions during that period which might have exposed some of the difficulties which subsequently came to light.”
If you believe a criminal offence has taken place my advice would be that you make a complaint to the police.
Service Director: Legal and Democratic Services
Bristol City Council
PO Box 3176
Tel 0786 169 1636
From: ian robinson [mailto:xxxx]
Sent: 13 February 2017 19:43
To: Shahzia Daya; Mayor’s Office Mayor’s Office; Editor at Bristol News; The Bristolian .; Steven Norman; Charlotte LESLIE; Councillor Donald Alexander; Councillor Jo Sergeant
Subject: Section 151 Officer – attempt to influence election
I am writing to you to raise a concern that recent information released to the press regarding the £29 million deficit within council budgets was suppressed from the public, Mayor and Cllrs in the run up to both the Mayoral and local elections. It would appear to me (a reasonable man) that there would appear to have been a co-ordinated attempt to influence the election results by suppressing the scale of the budgetary deficit.
As I believe you are the Section 151 officer now for BCC can you comment on the councils position regarding this matter? Has any report been forwarded to Avon and Somerset Police of the situation with a request to investigate?
If you could avail me of the current situation I would be grateful,