Mayor vows to tackle fraud and corruption

At a Liverpool City Council cabinet meeting on Friday city Mayor Joanne Anderson will sign a new policy which aims to minimise the risk of fraud, bribery, corruption and tax evasion. Tony McDonough reports

Joanne Anderson
Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson is signing the new policy. Picture by Liverpool City Council

 

Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson is vowing to take steps to minimise the risk of fraud, bribery, corruption and tax evasion in the city council.

At the city council cabinet meeting on Friday (December 3), Mayor Anderson, along with chief executive Tony Reeves and Chair of Liverpool City Council’s Audit Committee, Cllr Kris Brown, will sign the new policy which commits to the “principles of good governance”.

It follows a turbulent period for the city. In December 2020 former Mayor Joe Anderson was one of a number of people arrested by Merseyside Police as part of the Operation Aloft investigation into corruption surrounding property deals. He was released without charge and denies any wrongdoing.

In March, a damning report by Government inspector Max Caller identified a “fundamental failure of audit and governance” with the authority and “a lack of scrutiny and oversight” across its highways department.

Weeks after the publication of the report the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, sent in four commissioners to oversee and overhaul the city’s regeneration, highways, procurement, and governance and audit functions.

When she was elected Mayor in May, Ms Anderson apologised to the people of Liverpool on behalf of the Labour Party and administration for the findings of the Caller report. She said: “It uncovered things that have deeply hurt us all…  I want Liverpool to have the best accountability and transparency structures in the country.”

Tony Reeves
Tony Reeves, chief executive of Liverpool City Council. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

Late last month the scale of that task was made clear when the commissioners published their first report since coming into the authority. They acknowledged the “hard work and ambition of dedicated and talented staff”. However they added there remains issues around leadership, governance, competence and its finances.

They said the initial response to the problems identified in the Caller report have been “frenetic” rather than “purposeful and targeted”, adding there has been a rush to make improvements too quickly.

The new statement, being signed by the Mayor, Mr Reeves and Cllr Brown, says:

“This Statement sets out the council’s policy in relation to fraud, bribery, corruption and tax evasion. It has the full support of both its elected members and chief officers.

The council takes its responsibilities to protect the public purse very seriously and is fully committed to the principles of good governance. To achieve the objectives set out within its plans (City Plan), the council needs to maximise the financial resources available to it.

“In order to do this, the council has an ongoing commitment to continue to improve its resilience to all forms of fraud. The council is committed to ensuring that fraud opportunities are reduced to their lowest possible level through a combination of:

  • 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, and…
  • Pursuit – prioritising fraud recovery and the use of civil sanctions, developing capability and capacity to punish offenders and developing a collaborative law enforcement process.

“The council acknowledges that it faces numerous fraud threats, both internally and externally and it will implement sound control systems to prevent fraud. The council expects all its stakeholders (councillors, employees, suppliers, contractors, partners, service users or members of the general public) to act honestly, with integrity and to protect the public purse.

“Both members and employees, particularly chief officers, are expected to lead by example, be accountable for their actions and demonstrate the highest standards of conduct. The required ethical standards are included in the Members’ Code of Conduct and Officer Code of Conduct.

“The council advocates strict adherence to its anti-fraud framework and associated policies. In the majority of cases there will be a zero tolerance approach to fraud. It will train staff to identify fraud and will maintain an appropriately skilled resource to deal with allegations.

“The council will take all necessary steps to investigate all allegations of fraud and pursue sanctions available in each case.

“This policy statement is underpinned by an anti-fraud, bribery, corruption and tax evasion strategy, which sets out actions the council proposes to take over the medium-term to continue to develop its resilience to fraud.”

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