Louth County Council has published the details of a damning Deloitte report which chronicles a litany of fundamental failures into how the council went about buying properties for social housing.
The report was commissioned following an investigation by the Dundalk Democrat into the sale of two houses owned by council officials to the County Council. It later emerged that there were some deficiencies in procedure surrounding the purchase of the houses by the council.
In a 14 page statement outgoing County Manager Philomena Poole lays out in some detail Deloitte findings, which found numerous procedural shortcoming on the part of the purchase of housing with the Social Housing Investment Programme (SHIP).
Ms Poole confirmed that the two members of staff involved, Donal Clarke and Willie Walsh, had been through a “disciplinary investigation and proceedings have been carried out and completed.”
She does not make clear what, if any, disciplinary action was taken against the Mr Clarke and Mr Walsh.
Ms Poole states: “Insofar as the specific transactions involving LCC officers were concerned, I do not propose disclosing the detail of the findings made by Deloitte or the subsequent disciplinary investigation in relation to those transactions.
“I am advised that I am precluded from doing so in circumstances where those findings relate to the personal information of the employees concerned.
“Further, those matters have been addressed from a personnel perspective in accordance with LCC’s Grievance and Disciplinary Procedure. I believe that it would be inappropriate to disclose the details of that process. There would be a real risk that the disciplinary proceeding would, in effect, be re-run in public without any of the safeguards and procedures that should apply and were applied. To do so would be unfair and would expose LCC to the risk of legal action.”
Ms Poole however says that she could addresses the matters relating to ‘individual transactions.’
“Deloitte made a series of detailed recommendations in relation to employee transactions many of which would apply to transactions outside the scope of the Social Programme.
“The key systems issue identified by Deloitte in its review of the individual transactions was the absence of any procedure for ensuring that employees dealt with LCC on a transparent and “arms-length” basis in transactions with which they were personally involved.”
The audit confirmed what the Dundalk Democrat originally reported : That staff were negotiating with members of staff that they were working with in relation to the sale of their own properties to the council.
“Examples of the issues that arose were employees negotiating on their own behalf with persons with whom they worked on a day-to-day basis and employees attending meetings at which their properties were discussed.”
Ms Poole outlines other damning findings from the Deloitte audit.
Deloitte found that due to a lack of documentation, they were unable to verify if many of the protocols and procedures were actually adhered to in the purchase of the houses. Crucially they found “no evidence” of surveys being undertaken on housing purchases.
“Deloitte found that in “many” of the 18 files reviewed, LCC’s solicitor wrote to the Housing Department indicating that a structural survey was advisable. Deloitte found that there was no evidence of such surveys being completed.”
The statement notes Management responded by saying that: “ it was not considered necessary to document property inspections in circumstances where there had been an inspection by a qualified and experienced technical officer.”
There was also no documentary evidence that the 18 houses purchased met the needs of LCC in terms of “location or specification”.
“Deloitte found that the minutes did not demonstrate and make clear that the properties were deemed to have met Council housing requirements.”
The Deloitte also found that in one instance, solicitors were told to purchase a house before a Director’s Order was signed. This ‘further control was ignored on at least one occasion. The audit was also damning of the SHIP database, which does not detail key elements of the properties that were purchased, stating: “ The extract does not record how LCC became aware of the property, for example, by way of phone call in response to a Council advertisement, website trawl by members of staff or contact from property agents,” and that the “Internal Audit was unable to establish the accuracy, reliability and effectiveness of the “database” as a management information system.”
Ms Poole’s statement also includes a detailed account of the Deloitte recommendations, many of which relate to how the council manages cases of conflict of interest.
She confirmed that a review will now take place in relation to other areas of housing procedures.
“The review will take into account the recommendations of Deloitte, ensure that there are documented procedures in relation to each of those areas and will specifically develop protocols to manage conflicts of interest where LCC is dealing with an employee or connected person who is transacting on pecuniary matters as a private individual,” Ms Poole said in her statement.