EMPLOYEES of a Yorkshire council have been warned they could be prosecuted if they fail to declare any financial interests relating to council business.
The warning has been issued by crisis-hit Keighley Town Council following two damning audit reports which warned of a lack of safeguards over transactions involving family members of both councillors and council staff.
I have fought this irresponsible council for two termsCouncillor Ron Beale, Keighley Town Council
Councillors endorsed a new set of council regulations at a meeting on Thursday which contained new guidance on the registering of financial interests.
Auditors have previously questioned how payments were authorised to people connected to officers of the council.
An audit report in December said there was no evidence on the face of invoices provided to indicate who had authorised the payments.
That report followed a warning in July, in a confidential internal council email, which said: “It is improper for family, friends or relatives or officers or councillors to use public funds for their own personal interests. This is a common problem with this council which is not being addressed and councillors are not declaring their financial and pecuniary interests.”
On Thursday, members of the council voted to endorse eight new documents as council policy.
The documents include the authority’s response to a public interest report issued by external auditors in December which outlined potentially unlawful spending and prompted a police investigation which remains ongoing.
The council’s response to concerns about transactions involving family members, issued shortly before Thursday’s meeting, contains an explicit warning to staff.
“Employees must declare their financial or non-financial interests to the Town Clerk. The Local Government Act states that officers must make a formal declaration about council contracts where the employee has a financial interest. If employees do not do this, then it is a criminal offence.”
It adds: “Employees must not make any financial decisions in their official duties if they have an interest in them.
“Where an officer has a conflict of interest in any matter he/she shall not participate in any matter in his/her capacity as an officer without the prior approval of the Town Clerk.”
The document says that the disclosure of interests for councillors on all council agendas is now extended to include the interests of officers.
The new safeguarding measure was introduced following a vote by councillors on Thursday evening.
Councillors also backed new training around “internal control” systems relating to decision making and spending.
The specific training will be for new councillors and the chairmen of certain committees.
Town Clerk Tom Ferry said councillors would be encouraged to attend training sessions which would cost £1,400 if everyone attended.
After Thursday’s meeting, Councillor Ron Beale said he would not seek re-election.
He said: “After two terms fighting the irresponsible activities of this Town Council, warning them of their disregard of ratepayer monies, I have decided not to seek re-election.”
He said it was unfortunate the council had taken the “unacceptable gamble” of the civic centre project which was costing £200,000 a year to run.
He claimed the authority had “learned nothing” despite negative audit reports and an ongoing police probe.