Corruption  and Crime in Local Government 

I worked as a Director in an LA where the leader and chief executive are still on police bail accused of corruption and intimidation of witnesses. Just how many senior local authority figures are under investigation for criminal activity/corruption and whether this represents an increasing problem I don’t know . But what I do know is there is a reluctance to talk about corruption in local government accompanied by a long standing view that it isn’t an issue.You won’t t find much in the National papers or on National news, the reports that do exist are in local news papers and so the wider picture is not clear. 
 

It seems to me that ever since Local Authorities had big outsourcing  contracts to place there have been more reports of senior managers arrested and on police bail whilst allegations are investigated. It’s not just finance staff who may think something doesn’t smell right about the way a big contact was awarded. 

 

To often commercial confidentiality is quoted to avoid answering detailed questions. If only the leader, chief executive and treasurer know the detail then even though everything is above board rumours of prior links, favoured providers and inside  information may persist. Yes the Over View and Scrutiny committee will have looked at the process and cabinet approved the award but this may simply amount to members being reassured that the contract was awarded following a competitive tendering process. Ignoring the fact that some may have been invited to apply through personal contacts and that the successful bidder may not be the one who made the lowest bid prompting questions about what criteria was used to award the contract. 

 

The following quotes from a report into corruption in LA’s by Transparency International explains the reasons for increased concern and why the risk of fraud and corruption is greater than it was.  

 

“...the conditions are present in which corruption is likely to thrive – low levels of transparency, poor external scrutiny, networks of cronyism, reluctance or lack of resource to investigate, outsourcing of public services, significant sums of money at play and perhaps a denial that corruption is an issue at all.

..”...the system of checks and balances that previously existed to limit corruption has been eroded or deliberately removed. These changes include the removal of independent public audit of local authorities, the withdrawal of a universal national code of conduct, the reduced capacity of the local press and a reduced potential scope to apply for freedom of information requests. “ Transparency international U.K.

 

As recently as 2020 the Transparency International report  Permission Accomplished: Assessing corruption risks in local government planning , identified five key corruption risks in England:

  1. Opaque lobbying.
  2. Bribery and excessive gifts and hospitality.
  3. Conflicts of interest.
  4. Abuse of the ‘revolving door’, ie the movement of individuals between positions of public office and jobs in the private sector, in either direction.
  5. Weak oversight.

The report concluded LA’s in general were not doing enough to reduce the risk of corruption and had inadequate sanctions for councillors who broke the rules. 


There is no agreement about the level of corruption in local government in the U.K. but but fraud and corruption specialists agree that the risk has increased significantly over the last ten years. Anecdotal evidence suggests there are number of on going police investigations and to my mind most worryingly these seem to be accompanied by claims of witness interference and intimidation.  

 

Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.U.K. 

Security level: Public

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