Taxpayers' £280,000 hit after blunder

BLUNDERS led to town bosses making unlawful payments of more than £280,000 when striking contracts to build Ipswich's Customer Service Centre, The Evening Star has learned today.

BLUNDERS led to town bosses making unlawful payments of more than £280,000 when striking contracts to build Ipswich's Customer Service Centre, The Evening Star has learned today.

Specialist auditors were called in to investigate contracts relating to the construction of the town's centre which offers all council services under one roof at the town hall.

A report to Ipswich Borough Council found that two key contracts struck with a firm of architects, one worth £83,000 in 2002, the other worth more than £200,000 in July 2004, were not put out to tender.

This rendered them “unlawful expenditure” as rules governing councils mean any contract exceeding £50,000 should be advertised for firms to bid on, in an attempt to ensure competition.

There is no suggestion that any council officers acted improperly although the failings were considered serious enough for a full audit.

The council officers directly involved in the deal have since left the council but a spokesman emphasised this was not because of any disciplinary action.

Most Read

The spokesman said: “It was simply that they retired as part of the recent reorganisation or they moved on to other jobs - it was not linked to this in any way.”

Previous contracts had been handled correctly and part of the reason the town hall work was not properly tendered was because it went to a company which had already done work at the town hall, and knew the building well.

Meanwhile, the total cost of the work, which was overseen by the firm of architects, spiralled by a staggering £767,000.

Refurbishment of part of the town hall to create the one-stop shop was supposed to cost £1.43million but the full price came to around £2.19m.

Terry Hayward, corporate director at the council, said: “Interviews were carried out and we brought back officers who had left to speak to them.

“Processes have been strengthened and the people working with them [contracts] are under no illusion as to what they are supposed to do. They are watched very carefully.”

“The experience of the town hall has been a good learning experience, a re-learning experience, to make sure that we plan both physically and financially in a more comprehensive manner.

“People shouldn't lose sight of the fact we have a fantastic facility [the customer service centre] which is accessible to everybody and really brings Ipswich Borough Council to the people.

“It makes us more accessible and that was the whole thrust of the process.”

N Do you accept the council's explanation? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter