An audit report into the service’s relationship with Wirral Cladding and Roofing (WCR) reveals a single purchase order placed with the company was worth £89,650 but added: “Evidence could not be provided during the review to confirm that a contract had been entered into with the Company and, furthermore, that this had been executed under seal.”
The report said the deal broke contract rules “and increases the level of risk faced by the Service of the required works not being undertaken, not to the required standard and the financial / legal securities not being in place should a defect be identified at a later date.”
In all, WCR received £397,426.40 from the fire service for roofing and other maintenance work carried out between August 2012 and the end of last year.
It remains something of a mystery how the company was employed in the first place. The report says senior fire service staff have given written confirmation they did not know anyone at WCR and adds staff who were interviewed could not recall how the arrangement came about.
The fire service’s Head of Asset Management and its Capital Projects and Environmental Manager at the start of the arrangement have both left the Service and the report says: “Attempts to contact them by telephone by Internal Audit have not been successful at the time of writing this report.
“It has therefore not been possible to conclusively identify who made the decision to approach Wirral Cladding and Roofing Ltd in the first instance. The Service has not been able to find any documentation regarding this matter.”
Auditors were able to contact WCR’s business development director, Tracy Peel, who said she had a link with the fire service through previous employment as a saleswoman at other companies. She said after joining WCR in January 2012 she held discussions with various fire service officers which led to the company being taken on for a four-month trial period for call-out work. Ms Peel also said she did not have a relationship with any officers employed by the fire service.
The report details how the arrangement with the company mushroomed to include 59 separate purchase orders for work.
Many were for relatively small amounts but when aggregated meant the work should have gone out to tender for a three-year contract.
The report says the arrangement broke contract rules and “failure to competitively procure a long term contract increases the risk of the Service not achieving value for money in terms of its reactive / revenue related roofing works.”
The audit report said key officers referred to a requirement to use approved contractors to comply with guarantees for specialist roof coverings and WCR was an approved contractor.
But it added: “However, the guarantees were not able to be provided during the review to support the statement made by key officers, nor were any documents to detail the named specialist companies that had to be utilised.”
The report lists a series of recommendations to tighten procedures and says consideration should be given to recovering money from WCR in cases where final payment exceeded the amount on original purchase orders.