Cityclean hit by fraud, bullying, sabotaged vehicles and a £3m overspend

Posted On 22 Jul 2020 at 3:35 pm

Fraud, bullying and sabotaged vehicles were found during an investigation of the council’s rubbish and recycling department Cityclean, councillors were told yesterday.

The investigation was prompted by whistleblowing but the council’s internal auditors were so concerned that they called in Sussex Police.

Two staff have been arrested and released under investigation – and remain suspended from their jobs at the Cityclean depot in Hollingdean – as revealed by Brighton and Hove News last year.

The police inquiry is the third in recent years where Brighton and Hove News has revealed allegations of fraud and arrests. Concerns over an £18 million housing contract cost a senior official his job and the council lost more than £3 million to fraudsters at the cash collection contractor Coin Co International.

And while steps have been taken to tighten up the way that Cityclean is run, councillors have asked for regular progress reports in future.

Auditors said that they had not been able to count all the costs of the problems at Cityclean but the budget was overspent by more than £3 million in the two years to the end of March.

The details were spelt out to Brighton and Hove City Council’s Audit and Standards Committee at a “virtual” meeting yesterday (Tuesday 21 July).

The internal audit team and counter fraud officers found dozens of weaknesses in Cityclean’s financial and management controls.

The committee was told that these were being addressed by the management.

A report said that a lack of checks on purchasing systems meant that some employees were able to benefit from fraud and collusion.

Improved stock control and better monitoring of spending within the service had helped resolve the problem.

There were concerns about the use of fuel and fuel cards and the report said: “Controls which should have prevented employees from removing items or materials from the workplace, for personal financial gain, were not in place or were ignored.

“Action has now been taken to include clear instructions to all staff that materials cannot be removed from the site, as well as improved inventory control over both council assets and materials.”

The council has also stopped using some suppliers as a result of the audit, with a number of issues related to staff and contractors working together to carry out fraud.

Security was not adequate to prevent “intentional damage” to vehicles at the depot.

And auditors found that there were no checks in place to tell whether any hired vehicles had been used privately rather than for work.

Councillor Tracey Hill

Whistleblowers alerted auditors to bullying and harassment at Cityclean and personal and sensitive information had been shared when it should not have been.

Labour councillor Tracey Hill said that she was concerned to read about the problems inside the service. She said: “It has been going on for some time.

“A number of measures have been put into place but, when you read about that kind of seriousness, what is going to happen now?”

Councillor Hill said that she wanted to know an update in a few months’ time to know whether the problems were resolved.

She was told that a follow-up inspection would be carried out to ensure that measures to deal with the various problems were in place.

Members of the committee were promised a quarterly update.

The audit findings follow investigations by Brighton and Hove News which revealed the underlying details of a dispute between the council and GMB union that almost led to a strike during Pride last year.

Other revelations enabled the public to learn key details contained in two secret critical reports highlighting the poor relationship between the council and the union.

One was written by former union leader Gerry Doherty and the other was a Local Government Association peer review which described the relationship as “dysfunctional”.

Siriol Hugh-Jones

Green councillor Siriol Hugh-Jones described the situation at Cityclean as “a can of worms”.

She said: “It is pretty appalling what has been allowed to go on.

“There’s talk about collusion between staff and contractors, rendering controls ineffective.

“It’s good that the measures are in place now but it does raise a lot of questions about Cityclean management in the past.”

The committee was told that investigations by the police and council were continuing.

  1. rolivan Reply

    Perhaps Rachel Chasseaud could explain what She has been doing for the last 2 years.The amount of money the Council has lost in the last 10 years must be near 20m.
    now with another 40m hanging over Council Taxpayers Heads it does make one wonder how Geoff Raw can sleep at night.

    • Tammy J Reply

      Given the timing I think Rachel Chasseaud has most likely been the one uncovering the mess and trying to put it right.

      • Rolivan Reply

        Why did she not get the Audit team involved earlier,surely if it has been going on for yeats then lots of Officers haven’t been doing their jobs,perhaps been shutdown by the Unions.The whole Council appears to be rotten to the core.

  2. Gerry R Reply

    We need a Brighton coalition of Tories Greens Independents and sensible Labour to run the council now and sort out City clean – this is really serious and shameful too, Brighton as a city seems to be imploding with more horrors, political and managerial, exposed every day.

  3. Anthony Head Reply

    Nothing surprises me with these bunch of councillors . They are only interested in putting in cycle lanes and ensuring students have enough accommodation in the city. The streets are filthy the bins are overflowing and there is graffiti on every street corner.

  4. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    The Cityclean situation has been deplorable for two decades (and was as bad under the previous set-up). The GMB leadership is locked down into a Seventies mindset.

    The Green administration discovered that the GMB had previously agreed to avert a strike by arranging with an earlier Council to be paid for 2.5 unworked hours per week. Come the Equalities law in 2013, this would have meant that everybody employed by the Council could have claimed four years’ worth of back pay for those hours at their hourly rate. Which would have bankrupted the place. The grimmest aspect of all that was that Council lawyers said that the Green administration could not reveal this state of affairs as it would upset the GMB. I began to mention it on Twitter and was told to stop doing so. But these are the facts. One lives and learns – and we should have ignored the lawyers. The simple fact is that adjoining authorities manage waste collection without problems. True, the towns of Hove and Brighton are a little different but not so much for there to be these decades of problems. One aspect of solving this will be people asking themselves whether they need to spend hard-earned money on stuff; the other is automation of waste collection (which is coming).

    • Rolivan Reply

      It would appear that the Councils Law Department is not fit for purpose.The money lost through misdealings in the last 10 years alone and not recouped because we were told it would not be in the Council Taxpayers interests is mindboggling.Surely it would make more financial sense to have a good law firm on a retainer as I am sure they wouldn’t have allowed about £20m to go unchallenged.

      • Christopher Hawtree Reply

        I do not know about the detail of that but yours is a good general point. What was galling for me is that at the time of the Bins I was MP candidate in Hove, and so the lawyers’ diktat scuppered my attempts to explain what was going on, 2013 through 2015. Even so, I came third, which was good in the circumstances.

        • Nigel Furness Reply

          Here you go again, Christopher!
          First you blame the Council Lawyers for the previous Green Administration’s financial incompetence–NOW it’s their fault that you lost the Hove General Election in 2015!
          Get a grip man, and face reality, before you end up seriously damaging your health.
          Speaking of which, it’s high time that I did a spot of revision on my Psychology Module notes.
          Until the next time.

    • Nigel Furness Reply

      Let me get this right, Christopher. You’re claiming that the Council lawyers forbade the then Green Administration from making this scandalous state of affairs public and YOU ALL WENT ALONG WITH IT? Did none of you challenge them– and if not–WHY NOT?
      NO Christopher, I submit that this is a contrived attempt by you to do the dirty work of the incoming Administration, by attempting to shift the blame for the sins of the previous Green ‘Authority’ onto the shoulders of those Lawyers, and why would you do that?
      Could the answer be that you know only too well that this new ‘Authority’ will be every bit as emasculated as was it’s 2011 predecessor, for the simple fact that it will also jump straight into bed with the GMB
      Were there to be so much as a grain of truth in your scurrilous and downright preposterous allegations, then tell me this and tell me no more: WHY HAS THIS ONLY COME TO LIGHT NOW?
      Would I be right in thinking that NOW, as THEN, the oft’ quoted Wimbledon terminology must come into play–you know the one Christopher–NEW BALLS REQUIRED!
      Put up or shut up, my friend, and learn to distinguish between FACT and FANTASY, for I have contacts in CityClean so rest assured that I shall leave NO stone unturned in the pursuit of my enquiries.

  5. fed-up with brighton politics Reply

    This is all still very ‘secret squirrel’. Who was supposed to be in charge of CityClean when all this was going on? Are they still there? What role did the GMB play in all this? There was talk, a long time back, about a shop steward being suspended, which caused the GMB a hissy-fit, whereupon Nancy Platts intervened in some way.

    I have a very poor opinion of Geoff Raw, who seems to have no control over anything but keeps his job unchallenged. We have had better CEOs who have been pushed out. Raw was ultimately responsible for the major bin strike several years ago, comes over as an anonymous wet lettuce, and yet he was appointed as CEO of the council, probably as a cheap and quick ‘solution’ to the vacancy. He has been no solution at all to anything and the council needs a strong and proactive CEO who will shake things up, never mind upsetting the GMB, who seem to run CityClean as their personal fiefdom.

    Something stinks in all of this, apart from uncollected rubbish, and it is about time that someone told the taxpayers exactly what has happened and what is being done about it, apart from a bit of an update later in the year. Labour covered it all up and, when the Greens take over tomorrow, they will undoubtedly be equally inactive about the important basics.

    Updates in a ‘few months’ time’ are of no consolation whatsoever and inspire no confidence in anyone concerned. Once again, a limp response, this time from Cllr Hill, when our money has been going down the drain from fraud and total incompetence.

    Seems to me that there is nothing rocket-science about efficient rubbish and recycling collections if someone has proper control of the service, which doesn’t appear to have been the case for some time. It’s a fundamental job of a council.

    And why are alleged culprits still on bail with the police apparently unable to progress their cases?

    Incompetence at the council seems to be endemic, what with the school transport fiasco (a director, since departed and uncontrolled, apparently engineered a system which was more suited to bulk ordering of paper clips than transporting the special needs kids), problems with overcharging by Mears re housing repairs/maintenance, a scam from a contractor that caused the loss of much parking revenue/cash, and then we have this long-running bin fiasco and lots else besides, all of which has cost the council (i.e. us) a huge amount of money.

    What a sad city this is, courtesy of those apparently in charge.

  6. Alison Reply

    The auditors should take a look at who kn the Council management structure have been in charge of Cityclean over the last seven or eight years and then look at what has happened to any who are no longer there:

  7. Roy Reply

    Fast forward to Oct 2021

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