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Council finally publishes secret Penn report

A SECRET report into the actions of Scarborough Council officers involved in the sea wall scandal has finally been published after councillors made a dramatic U-turn.

The controversial document exposes bad management and misconduct and reveals a "sorry tale of errors."

It states that officers cut corners, failed to put problems right and left councillors feeling let down.

Scarborough councillors had refused to release the confidential disciplinary report compiled by independent investigator Richard Penn.

But at a meeting of the appointments committee last week, they decided to publish it in a bid to restore public confidence in the battered authority.

Whitby borough councillor Joe Plant said: "All councillors made a decision not to publish the report after taking legal advice and, in hindsight, all councillors should have had a full copy of this report because at the end of the day, we were the ones who made a decision not to publish the report when we did not know all the facts.

"When people read the report it will become quite clear there has been a catalogue of errors made by a lot of people."

The report identifies five officers – including former chief executive John Trebble – who failed to do their job effectively when a number of contracts worth millions of pounds were awarded illegally to consultants High Point Rendel.

A leaked document from the Town Hall revealed Mr Trebble struck a secret deal to retire early on the basis the report never saw the light of day.

He withdrew his objection two days before he left his post at the end of last year.

In the report, Mr Penn criticised the culture at the Town Hall.

He said elected members were kept in the dark and were not involved in managerial issues.

"Elected members need to be more pro-active and challenging, they must ensure that they ask intelligent questions and seek information not only through formal scrutiny arrangements but also through regular updates on key council projects.

"There are dangers in assuming that no news is good news."

The other officers identified in the report are sea wall project manager John Riby, his former boss Derek Rowell, retired finance chief Trevor Teasdale and council lawyer Philip Newell, who has also retired.

None of them were said to come out of the affair well but only Mr Riby faced any disciplinary action. He was given a final written warning last year.

KEY QUOTES FROM THE PENN REPORT:

"The external auditor's Public Interest Report and my investigation point to what is seen both inside and outside the council as a sorry tale of errors, complacency and lack of 'corporateness' on the part of key individuals in an organisational environment and culture that allowed this to happen."

"It is difficult to allocate individual responsibility given the problems I experienced in meetings with a number of the key players including senior officers who have left the council's employment.

"The fact that there is no evidence of financial loss or fraudulent activity, whilst welcome, does not detract from the serious nature of the failure to ensure effective governance of the council's business."

"This was a challenging agenda for a small organisation and my investigation has pointed to what can happen if that agenda is pursued relentlessly. Corners get cut, individual officers are given their head and the normal checks and balances are not always firmly in place, and even if they are, may not always be followed or respected."

"It may well be that members of the council and the public at large consider that former employees of the council should be called to account for their involvement in the matter but that is simply not possible."