Castlereagh Borough Council hurriedly accept the Deloitte report’s recommendations (updated)

Three months after the draft Deloitte report was presented to Castlereagh Borough Council on 26 May, the final version was discussed during a private session of the council last night. This morning’s radio bulletins seemed to have gone all West Country with frequent mentions of “luvver” as the reports’ conclusions and political reaction was discussed.

Castlereagh Council curtly answered an FOI in May asking for a copy of the report with wording that was believable (though fell far short of the ICO’s advice on how to refuse requests).

As indicated in the press release the council “will require time to comprehensively review the report and enable councillors and officers to respond to the content”. “A further report will then be presented to the Council”.

Notice the clear explanation that a Section 22 exemption was being relied on, details of the internal appeals process and the right to complain to the ICO!

While some members of the media had copies and were quoting from it this morning, the report – at time of posting – still hasn’t been made public. Updatenow available on the FOI page of their website.

What isn’t in doubt are the findings that show (in UTV’s words):

The report by Consultants Deloitte said there was no evidence of impropriety on behalf of council officers directly involved in the process of awarding the tender of a cafe on the banks of the River Lagan in Belfast to Kirk McCambley.

The report also shows that the council did not incur any financial loss as a result of the award of the lease.

News reports suggest that while the council meeting minutes hadn’t noted Iris Robinson leaving, the building safety log showed that she had left the council offices before the Lock Keeper’s Inn was discussed.

Jimmy Spratt – DUP councillor and MLA – spoke after the meeting:

There are some however who attempted to advance their own political agenda behind a smokescreen of mud-slinging and rumour-mongering associated with this issue. Those people now have absolutely no basis for their vindictive campaign and their motives are now exposed. The report exonerates everyone of wrongdoing.

The Deloitte report apparently also calls for better training for councillors in the art of declaring conflicts of interest and a tightening of local government rules.

The private session to discuss the Deloitte report was reported to have been heated and not all councillors were impressed with the undue haste in accepting the report and its recommendations.

Alliance councillor Michael Long said he felt the council were given insufficient time to debate the 35-page report. He said his party felt “railroaded” into making a decision and they abstained in the vote.

“The report was tabled and we were given a minute to read it,” he said. “We were then told that there would be a vote in terms of accepting the report and its recommendation. We hadn’t had a chance to read a 35-page report and we were expected to support recommendations without having read them.”

“I’m sure most of them are absolutely fine, and indeed we would like to see improved procedures. We want to see more openness and transparency in the council. But I think it would be at least sensible for councillors to have been given time to read the recommendations and the report.”

Perhaps once the councillor training is put in place, Castlereagh will tighten up its FOI procedures and also keep its promise to publish its minutes online (without having to be chased). And perhaps the ghost of Kirk McCambley will finally leave the local political scene and takes his place in the political archive of the Linen Hall Library.

Update – Some extracts from the Deloitte report, Section 4 Conclusions.

Our review identified no evidence of the Council incurring any financial loss as a result of the award of the lease at Lock Keeper’s Inn.

There was no evidence from our review to suggest any impropriety on behalf of Council Officers or Members directly involved in the Assessment Panel that was responsible for administering the process for the award of the lease at the Lock Keeper’s Inn and making recommendations to Council in this regard. Our investigation did however identify some procedural issues regarding the award process whereby late and non compliant expressions of interests were accepted and these applicants were then invited to progress to the next stage of the award process. While we have made a number of recommendations within the report with regard to this issue, it is important to appreciate that this decision to breach the pre-agreed award procedure in place was taken by the Economic Development Sub Committee in the interest of competition and that the only party that could have been potentially disadvantaged by this breach of procedure was Kirk McCambley.

We found no evidence within the scope of our review and the work performed in this regard to suggest that officers or elected representatives did not comply with the requirements of relevant local government legislation and guidance in the awarding of the lease to the Lock Keeper’s Inn. Our review found that the then Alderman Iris Robinson did not sit on the Assessment Panel for the lease award or the Council’s Economic Development Committee and therefore had no direct involvement in the main processes for awarding the lease of Lock Keeper’s Inn.

Commissioning Deloitte to produce a report seems quite onerous. There’s a cracking disclaimer on the front of the report – common to other Deloitte reports – that states that

[the report] was not intended to be made available or communicated to any other part other than Castlereagh Borough Council. It was not created in contemplation of the needs of someone requesting it under the Freedom of Information Act and no other party is entitled to rely on our report for any purpose whatsoever …

Section 1.5 of the report also instructs Castlereagh Borough Council that:

You should consult with us promptly should you receive any requests which you consider requires disclosure of the contents of this report, either in whole or in part, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

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