SERIOUS failures by Greenham Parish Council are to blame for the costs of the troubled control tower project spiralling to more than £700,000.
In 2014, the parish council purchased the tower from West Berkshire Council for £100,000 with the intention of converting it into a visitor centre and café.
However, the project has been hit by a series of delays and costs and Greenham Parish Council has now been forced to apply for a £150,000 loan to be able to finish the works.
A damning report, compiled by auditor BDO, found that “the council took on a large capital project without the appropriate skills or capacity to assess the risks”.
It added that Greenham Parish Council made “no formal consideration of what the project would entail” when purchasing the tower from West Berkshire Council.
One finding was that a structural survey was not undertaken by the parish council at the time to gain insight into the true extent of restoration work required.
The control tower working group was also criticised for a “lack of public transparency regarding the decisions made” by holding many of its meetings in private and not keeping an accurate record of the minutes.
The audit report said: “The council demonstrated a collective failure to identify that there was a need for experienced and additional project management support.
“We have identified a number of key themes where there have been substantial deficiencies in the controls for the management of a large capital project.”
It added: “The overall standard of governance and control has fallen well short of expected requirements.”
The report also says that the parish council failed to carry out a project appraisal and risk assessment and that all decisions were “made in a rush due to deadlines”.
It notes that formal tendering exercises were not undertaken regarding the selection of contractors to undertake the restoration works on the tower.
The report says: “In the most part suppliers have been chosen based upon recommendations either by third parties or known contacts of the council.
“This poses heightened risks of contracts being awarded inappropriately to friends/family with limited opportunities for this being identified.”
Contracts totalling £20,000 or more were awarded to 10 separate suppliers – including the original award of construction works which totalled £222,000.
However, the report say there is no indication that there was any financial impropriety or fraudulent use of funding for the project.
Greenham Parish Council’s current chairman Phil Barnett said: “I think in hindsight, yes, if we were to do it again we would do it in a different way.
“If we could go back in time we’d make sure we had a proper project manager in place. That is probably where the council went wrong.
“The public will interpret the report in the way they see fit. Some will recognise there were extra costs with the control tower that weren’t expected but others will no doubt be alarmed by the findings.
“The circumstances were, because of the urgency of getting the work done at short notice, the working group did have to go and look for local suppliers and contractors very quickly.
“The tendering of contracts was done with a ‘do you know a good painter or plumber locally’ approach among members of the control tower working group. It was not a case of ‘my brother is a painter’.”
If successful in its bid to borrow £150,000, the council is likely to increase its precept – the amount of money it collects from residents – by 17 per cent to cover the repayments.