A PRIVATE company has obtained nearly £400,000 from South Yorkshire Fire Service despite officials being unable to ascertain how it was employed in the first place or why contract rules were bypassed to allow lucrative business to be awarded without any competition from rivals.
At one point, tender documents published by the fire service were written by a director at Wirral Cladding and Roofing (WCR) after which the company, based on Merseyside, went on to obtain the work itself.
The startling arrangements with WCR are outlined in an audit investigation prompted by a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by the Yorkshire Post focussing on what appeared to be an unusual commercial relationship.
The FOI responses from the service initially indicated the roofing and maintenance work had been properly awarded but after a direct appeal to councillors on South Yorkshire Fire Authority a formal audit investigation was set-up.
The investigation has revealed a catalogue of failings, with no or limited documentation to properly support hundreds of thousands of pounds of public spending. There is no suggestion of criminality.
On two occasions, tender documents published via the regional local authority procurement website YORtender, inviting companies to quote for contracts with the fire service, were written by Tracy Peel, WCR’s business development director, and included her name and personal contact details. The report said: “In both cases, the Company was successful in being appointed to undertake the required works.”
Ms Peel told auditors she had written the tender specifications when she had been employed by another company and they had been published through “administrative error”.
The audit also found that in three out of five contracts awarded to WCR which were large enough to require three competitive quotes or a formal tendering exercise there was no evidence any other company had actually been invited to or submitted a quotation. On 29 occasions, invoices from WCR were higher than original purchase orders with the report finding no documentation to approve the increases.
It added: “It was noted that, in 16 out of the 29 cases, additional line items had been entered onto the purchase order… after the date of issue of the original purchase order to increase the value of the purchase order. However, this was a retrospective action taken upon receipt of the invoice from Wirral Cladding & Roofing Ltd.”
Christine Marshall, an independent member of South Yorkshire Fire Authority audit committee which will consider the report on Monday, described the findings as “deeply disturbing”. She also called for all evidence so far gathered be given to a police force for possible investigation. Another committee member, Sheffield Lib Dem councillor Steve Ayris, said: “There is something fundamentally wrong beneath the surface and further investigation does need to happen.”