The city council’s audit committee met last night to outline the steps it is taking to address issues raised in Max Caller’s damning Best Value report, published in March.
Among the items on the agenda was an anti-fraud, bribery, corruption and tax evasion policy statement.
Liverpool City Council’s approach to clamping down on corruption comprises three elements:
- Acknowledgment – acknowledging and understanding the fraud risks and the harm they can cause the council, committing support and resources to tackling fraud and maintaining a robust anti-fraud response
- Prevention – preventing and detecting fraud by making better use of information and technology, enhancing fraud controls and processes and developing a more effective anti-fraud culture
- Pursuit – prioritising fraud recovery and the use of civil sanctions, developing capability and capacity to punish offenders and developing a collaborative law enforcement process.
In meeting papers, the council acknowledged that it faces “numerous fraud threats, both internally and externally and it will implement sound control systems to prevent fraud”.
The revised policy follows the Government-commissioned report by independent inspector Caller, which identified “a pervasive culture of rule avoidance” with the local authority. It was published in the wake of the arrests of former Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson and the council’s ex-regeneration director Nick Kavanagh as part of Operation Aloft, a Merseyside Police investigation into corruption at the council.
Neither man has been charged with any offence and both deny wrongdoing. In total, eleven individuals have been arrested as part of the probe.
In addition, the audit committee agreed a timeframe for reporting to the city council in relation to the progress of its improvement plan.
Liverpool was required to draw up an improvement plan following the publication of Caller’s report and the appointment of Whitehall commissioners to oversee the council’s planning, highways, and regeneration departments.
A council report on the progress of its improvement plan is expected at the end of September, in line with the commissioners’ first report to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The commissioners were named in June and have now begun their work, led by Mike Cunningham, ex-chief constable of Staffordshire Police.
Members also gave an update on the council’s new governance performance framework, another tool designed to tighten up internal processes.
This framework and regular quarterly reports “will provide the intelligence and management information needed to understand the areas of strength and weakness in the council’s overall governance framework”, according to a report to the audit committee.
The committee was also presented with the council’s draft unaudited accounts for 2020/21.
The accounts are expected to be certified by the director of finance by the end of September before being passed to Grant Thornton for the external audit.
However, the external audit is unlikely to take place until the conclusion of Operation Aloft, members were advised.