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Audit Commission blasts 'weak' process

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Bradford Metropolitan District Council has been criticised for the way it mismanaged the procurement of a key Asset Management Project (AMP).

Local authority watchdog the Audit Commission has published a damning report highlighting weaknesses in the way the authority sought to find a partner to manage its assets portfolio, a contract that is worth an estimated £1.2bn over 20 years.

The commission launched an inquiry last year after it received allegations from anonymous sources over the way the procurement process was being handled.

Reporting back, the district auditor Ivan McConnell said because of its complexity and lack of unanimous political support within the council, "progress on the project has not always been smooth".

As a result, he found the overall management of the project fell short of the "high standards expected generally for local authorities".

He noted that: "More formal arrangements would have helped to assure members that the portfolio of projects was being managed effectively to maximise benefits and minimise risks."

Because of its poor management, the scheme ended up without a fully effective project structure, the auditor said.

He found there was no dedicated project team, internal resources supporting the project were "at times stretched beyond their capacity" and there were "no formally documented roles and responsibilities for team members". Bradford failed to document the project properly, meaning the records are incomplete. In addition, it failed to predict the fees it eventually paid out to financial advisers on the project, meaning it probably broke its own and European procurement rules.

"In my view these deficiencies contributed to delays in progress and meant that key project control tasks such as management of advisers and documentation were not effectively completed."

He said the council needed to re-appraise its position on the AMP "quickly" and ensure any future project structure for the procurement of asset management is strengthened.

"This report is not about the decision taken by the council to improve its asset management but about the inability of council officers to employ effective procedures to manage this critical project. My conclusion is that there have been significant weaknesses in the appropriate standards required to manage a complex project of this kind."

However, he added that the council's interim chief executive has accepted the recommendations of the report without reservation and has already taken action to implement the report's recommendations.

Read the report here (PDF: 126KB).

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