Response to request for an independent inquiry into the Energy from Waste contract
CEO Pete Bungard has today released an open letter in response to a request for an independent enquiry into the Energy from Waste contract.
To the 10 signatories of the open letter received by the County Council on 7 January 2019 (albeit dated 2018).
Given the use of an open letter, I feel my reply should also take this format. I wish to apologise for the delay in replying.
The open letter requests the establishment of an independent inquiry into value for money; availability of information at decision points; not considering prudential borrowing; the contract’s compatibility with the objective of reducing waste; and disclosure of documents. The letter also challenges the independence of the Council’s external auditor, Grant Thornton.
Before replying to the request, it is helpful to refer to the current challenge to the Council’s annual accounts for the year ended 31 March 2017, because a significant number of the assertions which are made in the open letter are addressed in the challenge to the accounts.
By way of background, in April 2017 a number of individuals lodged a complaint with the Council’s auditors, Grant Thornton, on the following basis:
- Requesting the production of a report in the public interest under schedule 7 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 (the 2014 Act); and
- Seeking a declaration from the court under s28 of the 2014 Act that there is an unlawful item of account.
The grounds of the complaint relate to the contract and were essentially about whether the Javelin Park Energy from Waste (EfW) contract provides Value for Money and refers to the Council’s procurement process.
In considering your request for an independent inquiry I have noted the issues raised in the open letter are very similar to the matters referred to within the complaint to the Auditor and, on which the Auditor will be making an independent/impartial judgement about whether the Javelin Park EfW contract is value for money. It would be a duplication of resource and cost in taking forward a further inquiry.
Also, you are no doubt aware that a claim has been issued at the High Court by Community R4C Limited against “Gloucester County Council”. In the light of the issues raised in those proceedings, which will be a matter of public record, and which directly reference your open letter, it would not be appropriate for a further inquiry at present.
On the basis of the above I am not prepared to initiate a further inquiry.
I note that the issue of the Auditor’s independence has been raised in the open letter. This matter was discussed at length with Grant Thornton at the outset of their complaint investigation. They provided assurance that suitable controls would be in place to allow the Auditor to carry out their work independently. I would also point out that in the nearly two years since the complaint was first made this question of independence has never been raised to my knowledge.
I hope this helps clarify matters.
Gloucestershire County Council