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Works section at heart of crisis

THE main cause of the £1.8M crisis facing Hyndburn Council has been revealed as its former works department.

THE main cause of the £1.8M crisis facing Hyn-dburn Council has been revealed as its former works department.

A report on the crisis - revealed in last week's Observer - explained how the most significant shortfall was from the department, which was dissolved in March, with a loss of £133,000 in its final year of operation.

Prepared by chief fin-ance officer Joe McIntyre and presented to a meeting of the Cabinet on Wednes-day, the report highlighted a number of concerns, including the fact the works department's poor performance was not spotted.

It said there was no evidence of any wilful misconduct within the department, but there had been a major weakness in financial control. Its accounts had been left in such a poor state that it had not been possible to trace the precise cause of the overspending.

The report concluded: "The works department appears to have lost its business drive and financial management ability in the final year of operation.

"The council's financial processes did not have significant rigour to identify and highlight the problems and therefore no remedial action was undertaken."

Councillor Britcliffe thanked councillors from both the Labour and Conservative groups for their "sensible" attitude and for refraining from pointing the finger of blame at each other.

He said: "I am grateful to all. It's so easy to make cheap remarks but what we are talking about here are amounts of money that council tax payers have to pay."

He added: "This is a very serious problem but one I am sure we can deal with. We recognise that in recent years there have been fundamental weaknesses in financial management and we are now dealing with the after- effects of this.

"In addition, we have to manage the increased business cost of things like higher insurance premiums and increased demands from the public and Government."

Recognising that if the council's financial systems had been up to scratch it would have received an earlier indication of the problem, Councillor Brit-cliffe went on: "We have taken the steps needed to strengthen our financial management and systems. We will now be taking immediate action to implement a financial recovery plan that will enable us to bring the situation under control."

He also accused Hynd-burn MP Greg Pope of making "cheap remarks" about the situation and suggested instead he should knock on Chanc-ellor Gordon Brown's door and confront him about the shortfall in Govern-ment funding for local authorities.


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist