I have written before about Lib Dem led Cheltenham Council's extraordinarily expensive vendetta against their former Managing Director Christine Laird. The Council was demanding a £1 million from her claiming she had given false answers about her health – they lost the court case after the judge decided she had not done so. We now know the whole saga has cost the Council Taxpayers of Cheltenham a staggering £2.1 million.
The case is back in the news after a report from auditors KPMG makes 26 recommendations. The obvious one would be to use a bit of common sense. Even if the Council had won the would have still lost – as Christin Laird would have simply gone bankrupt. As with so much else in local government the councillors responsible for pushing the process along should have asked themselves one question: "Would I be doing this if it was my own money I was spending?" This was a dispute that could be indulged in because other people's money was being used.
The Conservative MP for Tewkesbury Laurence Robertson says:
“The points made in the report are very serious in a number of ways. First, the report strongly criticises the decision-making processes and the structure of the Council in coming to the decision to go ahead with, and continue with, the case.
“Secondly, although the report acknowledges that the Council received legal advice before proceeding with the case, it says that the case was unique, so I would like to know how that legal advice was put together, and why it has not been published. I am, therefore, calling for that advice, which was paid for by taxpayers’ money, to be published in full.
“And thirdly, the report says that the council did not give adequate consideration to the fact that, even if they had won the case, Mrs Laird would not be in a position to be able to pay the amount of
compensation which they were claiming. This is a fundamental point, common to all civil cases, which seems to had been ignored by the Council.
“I will, therefore, be taking these three points up with the Council, and perhaps others, with a view to making sure that the full story comes out and that lessons are learnt from this whole sorry saga. The mishandling of the case by the Council has cost the taxpayers of the area, including thousands of my constituents, a great deal of money and that is unacceptable."
The report from KPMG (which I suppose will have cost the Council Taxpayers yet more money) is really a statement of the bleeding obvious. I don't blame KPMG for that – when asked to comment on such blatant failings what else could they do. So we end up with Recommendation 9: "Ensure that all relevant options are assessed when considering crucial decisions." While Recommendation 12 says: "Before starting legal proceedings that are likely to incur significant costs, estimate the potential risks and costs and revisit this analysis throughout the process, and certainly whenever there is a sea chang in the case." The report adds there was "a lack of clarity" as to who was responsible for taking the decisions.
What a shambles.