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Damning report into handling of Control Tower project

Greenham Parish Council's 'collective failures' have seen costs spiral

Dan Cooper

Reporter:

Dan Cooper

Contact:

01635 886632

Future of iconic Greenham Control Tower is put in doubt

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.

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Article comments

  • pops50

    09/01/2017 - 21:09

    Well done Lib Dems You are always looking for glory

    Reply

  • Louise

    Louise

    09/01/2017 - 16:04

    Has WBC no responsibility to oversee such large projects in Councils within its boundary?

    Reply

  • GreenhamPete

    09/01/2017 - 12:12

    Total incompetence by a bunch of amateurs who need to be brought to account. It is disturbing to hear the Liberal perpetrators such as Julian Swift-Hook forget recent history and still regularly shout in the press about the Conservatives mis-handling our money, when the magnitude of their incompetence and abuse of local taxes that we, the Greenham residents, are committed to pay is on a different scale altogether. No hint of an apology whatsoever. Just 'we probably went wrong by not appointing a project manager..' Probably..?!! And "Because of the urgency of getting the work done at short notice.." What urgency? Maybe urgency to make the purchase, but who, for example, buys a house as a renovation project, without undertaking a structural survey and properly costing it out before making such a commitment. I'm no Tory lackey BTW, but believe national political parties should be banned from parish councils, and this debacle proves it.

    Reply

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