Forensic audit for council that paid its chairman £20,000 to cut the grass

The Dales village of Long Preston, near Settle
The Dales village of Long Preston, near Settle
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A COUNCIL is planning an independent forensic audit of its tendering process in the wake of a Yorkshire Post investigation which revealed it paid its chairman more than £20,000 over three years to cut the grass and maintain verges.

Long Preston Parish Council awarded both the grass cutting contract for its 10 village greens and playing fields and the lengthman contract for maintenance of roadside verges to Tory chairman Nick Thwaite.

The council said it advertised the contracts publicly but the only bid received was from Coun Thwaite, whose rate for the lengthman work was £18 an hour. He has denied any conflict of interest. Coun Thwaite said he declared his interest ahead of discussions about the contract and did not take part in them.

The contract was awarded by his deputy, Coun Keith McBride.

A spokesman for the council said: “The council is minded to order a forensic audit into the lengthman and grass-cutting tenders in order to put the minds of the people of Long Preston at rest that nothing untoward has taken place.

“As this would require expenditure out of the ordinary, the council sought an initial view of the full Parish at the Annual Parish Meeting. The initial view of the parish was in favour of the audit – although there was a considerable body of opinion that it was not necessary – and the council will take a final decision on whether to order the audit or not at a council meeting to be held in two to three weeks time.”

Coun Thwaite was first awarded the contract in 2007 shortly after being elected. Two other contractors say they submitted bids but never heard from the council. In 2010 the contracts were put out to tender again and Coun Thwaite was awarded both.

According to Long Preston’s accounts, after he took over the work, annual spending on “open spaces” increased by nearly £4,000 to £6,690 for 2008.