Would hate to be accused of being biased on any subject I write about. I am always willing to clarify any point on this blog. An hour or so ago the Leader of Cornwall Council issued a statement on points of where the money has been spent on the debit/credit cards.
The Council currently has 509 cards (of which 154 are allocated to schools) and there are very strict financial (their words) controls in place to regulate their use. Individual cards have a maximum limit on them which depends on the seniority of the individual member of staff. This is normally around £1,000. All payments are checked and countersigned.
The following statements are the Leaders words – I would also like to provide the facts behind some of the specific items which have been highlighted over the past few days.
Silk ties – - this payment relates to the purchase of 100 Cornwall Council ties which Councillors are now being invited to buy. They were designed and produced by a local company in Cornwall.
£1,080 – to the One Eyed Cat restaurant – this relates to a dinner (not a lunch) to mark the formal launch of the Unicreds project. This is a €2 million project looking at how different models of higher education can benefit regional economic development. It is a three year project funded by the EU involving partners from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Sweden and the UK. The cost of the meal, which was attended by 43 people, including representatives of all the project partners, was paid for by the Unicreds project and not by Cornwall Council.
£1,080 –to the Rick Stein Sea Food restaurant – this payment does not relate to a meal at the restaurant. It is part of the Future Job Fund project which is a Department for Work and Pensions European funded project to provide jobs for people in Cornwall. The Council makes payments to each partner based on the number of jobs they deliver and then reclaims 100% of these payments back from the Department for Work and Pensions
£3,000 for phone charges – this payment is the monthly mobile phone cost for 265 mobiles for the Cornwall Fire and Rescue service. These mobiles cover the entire Service including: the crews for 65 fire appliances, , the officers in workshops (mechanics etc), Training Dept, Emergency Management Team, All Mobile Officers, all Station Managers and Senior Managers. This works out at approximately £11 per phone.
Fish tank – this payment relates to a fish tank which was brought for one of our children’s centres. The use of such equipment to help engage with young children, particularly children with complex needs, is recognised as good practice and is often used in hospitals and GP surgeries.
Computers/ hi fi and musical instruments – the items were purchased for use by schools, children’s homes and respite centres and the youth service.
The point on One-eyed-cat and Seafood Restaurant is interesting as listed in the accounts online it is money spent. At least now (we hope) we know these two restaurants bills can be explained. What about all the other ones listed? Are they all paid by others and not Cornwall Council?
A lot of spending on travel is from schools and I thought this would be the case as the coding was marked as SCH. Saying that, there are still many that are not coded to schools. Are these all value for money, and essential?
As for the fish tank, wii, computers and entertainment systems no one will complain if there is a genuine reason like being used in Children’s Centres or children’s homes. In fact, children’s homes should be kitted out like this if it makes the children’s stay at these places more bearable.
The real damage has been on the reputation of the Council. Many of these stories could have been handled much better or even killed off. A lesson to be learn from this is how we as a Council put out information, especially on our own web-site. You can hardly expect much sympathy if the details put out are wrong.