Councillor concerns over ‘chaotic management’ at two Hartlepool community organisations

Manor Residents Association Community Resource Centre, Kilmarnock Road
Manor Residents Association Community Resource Centre, Kilmarnock Road

WORRIED councillors have expressed concerns about the “chaotic management” in place at two organisations at the centre of damning audit reports and have demanded further work be carried out.

Hartlepool Borough Council audit reviews into Manor Residents’ Association (MRA) concluded “no assurances” could be given to the procedures in place to manage council funds and the Who Cares North East organisation was given a “limited assurance” rating.

Auditors raised concerns about administrative procedures around payroll, payslips, end of year records and under and overpayment of tax letters.

Action plans have been drawn up and the council’s audit team will revisit the organisations in July, August and the end of the year to ensure recommendations have been implemented and embedded.

Councillors on the audit and governance committee called for the organisations to be monitored closely.

Coun Jonathan Brash raised concerns around the accounts of Who Cares North East being published and about MRA paying a month’s salaries for Who Cares NE employees.

He also raised concerns about information provided to board members and £40,000 of council funding which had been paid into a second MRA account.

The report said the management was not aware of the income in the second account, but manager and town councillor Angie Wilcox previously told the Mail the main business account had been targeted by external fraudsters.

That led to the bank freezing transactions and the need to use the other account for a short time.

Coun Brash said: “They had to write to this local authority asking for the money to be put into a separate account, but when the auditors come they don’t know anything about it.”

He said there was still “profound” questions and called for auditors to dig deeper.

Chief finance officer Chris Little said the audit was “robust” and said further work would rely on the organisations being willing.

Labour councillor Jim Ainslie said: “This comprehensive audit highlights the chaotic management of both organisations.”

He asked how auditors came to the conclusion there was no “inappropriate expenditure”.

Noel Adamson, head of audit and governance, said: “The arrangements to manage the payments were not quite what we would have hoped for, but there was no inappropriate expenditure.”

Putting Hartlepool First councillor Geoff Lilley called for management changes but Dave Stubbs, council chief executive, said they couldn’t insist on that.

Independent councillor Keith Fisher said: “We see no assurance and limited assurance, that is not the kind of comfort I’d expect.”

Mr Stubbs said: “If progress is not satisfactory we will be making further recommendations.”

Ultimately, the council could withdraw all funding.

Coun Wilcox said: “The recommendations have been implemented and we are working with the audit team and will continue to do so.

“This is about the organisation moving forward so that we can continue to carry out the valuable work in the community.”

Who Cares NE, which helps people live more independently, is based at MRA and shared administration systems.

Labour councillor Kevin Cranney, chairman of Who Cares (NE), said the audit showed there was “nothing to hide” but admitted issues around payslips were “sloppy”.

Reports did not identify any concerns around service delivery and said all council funding was accounted for.