Puzzlement over police decision not to investigate over damning Caerau findings
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
Councillors in Bridgend have expressed their puzzlement on hearing that police had upheld their decision not to open an investigation into the findings of a damning internal audit report.
Following Bridgend County Borough Council’s (BCBC) publication of the internal audit report on the Arbed Scheme – an energy saving scheme that left homes in Caerau damaged with mould and damp 10 years ago – South Wales Police confirmed that they would not be opening a criminal investigation.
The internal audit report, which was published in January, found multiple failings, indications of potential breaches of the council’s Members Code of Conduct.
One of the most significant finds of the report highlighted that public money may have been awarded to a company that did not exist.
More recently, a number of councillors from various political groups got together to ask the police for an explanation as to why they chose not to open an investigation.
One councillor – Cllr Altaf Hussain – asked outright for the police to re-think their decision.
A BCBC statement released today says: “Following the publication of an internal audit report summary into issues surrounding the Arbed energy efficiency scheme, South Wales Police have written to Bridgend County Borough Council to confirm that they have reviewed and upheld their decision not to carry out a criminal investigation.
“The council had contacted South Wales Police to request clarification so that officers could duly advise the Governance and Audit Committee, which met earlier today (15 March) to discuss the internal audit report.
“The police response stated that the internal audit report and related documents had been reviewed by the Economic Crime Unit. With no fresh evidence or change in circumstances, investigating officers supported and agreed with the previous decision not to take any further action.
“The issue had also been considered by the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales, Audit Wales and the Adjudication Panel for Wales, all of whom have now confirmed that no further action will be taken.”
‘Case wasn’t there’
Councillors expressed their puzzlement at a Governance and Audit Committee meeting yesterday on hearing that the police had upheld their original decision.
Cllr Amanda Williams asked at the meeting: “Why haven’t we got a copy of the police’s statement confirming that they were content that there was no further action?
“I think that would have given us [and the public] additional confidence. You have provided us with part of what was said.”
Head of Internal Audit, Mark Thomas responded saying: “That only came in yesterday and it was addressed to the Chief Executive, so I am sure it is up to the Chief Executive whether he feels that that can be made public.
“Certainly he was content that the content could be relayed to members today. If we had had it previously, we would have put it in the report itself like we have done with our colleagues at Audit Wales.
“Essentially, a different senior investigating officer has really looked at our report, all the appendices and all the information that we provided and has come to the same conclusion that they did in 2019.
“The case wasn’t there for them to take forward. That was their considered opinion and that is their considered opinion having looked at it again.”
The cost of rectifying the damage done to over a hundred properties in Caerau has been set at £3.5m – with £2.65m coming from the Welsh Government, subject to the submission of a business plan by BCBC, and £855,000 from the local authority.
Work on 25 of the properties was done by Green Renewable Wales (GRW) Ltd and associated companies – who were contracted by BCBC using funds from the Arbed Scheme.
The director of the now dissolved GRW, Phil White, who died in October was a BCBC councillor at the time.
Of the £316,192 paid to GRW, £188,132.20 was “retained” by the company and SBS Ltd.
The detailed conclusion of the report also stated that it “cannot be confirmed” if BSS Bridgend – another company subcontracted by GRW – “actually existed”.
Auditors also concluded that no procurement process was followed and no due diligence checks were evidenced for the companies used to undertake the works carried out.
“The whole thing was a shambles from start to finish,” said Cllr Altaf Hussain at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The work was not properly inspected on behalf of either the council or energy companies and people have been left living for years in unfit homes.
“It is [a scandal] that has been covered up until now. The internal audit report was procured two years ago and has been sat on by the council until a few weeks ago.
“People have the right to know that those who were responsible will be held to account.
“At the moment we know that nobody is carrying the can and the buck has not stopped anywhere.
“It is an open case. It is not a closed case.”
Mark Thomas responded saying: “Yes, our report was finalised back in October 2019, but in terms of the council not publishing it or bringing it forward – we went through the process with the police initially [and] that was prior to October 2019.
“Then it was referred to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales and they had to undertake their investigations and bring things to a conclusion from their point of view.
“Whilst all of that was going on, that is why the details of our report couldn’t be brought out.
“Issues were addressed in terms of processes and implementing recommendations.
“Also, we did some work to give some assurances as to the way things were being managed subsequently.”
Chief Executive at BCBC, Mark Shephard, said: “Having implemented actions to ensure that such a situation cannot reoccur, the council is focusing all of its efforts upon putting the situation right for householders in Caerau who have been affected by the failed wall insulation works.
“We have submitted a business case to Welsh Government outlining how we intend to use a £2.65m funding offer as part of an overall £3.5m commitment towards ensuring that the householders will be able to benefit from the scheme as it was originally intended.
“While it remains hugely disappointing that the wall insulation works installed in Caerau in 2012-2013 failed, the planned remedial works to address the problem will include all 104 premises which received the work, and not just the 25 homes that the council facilitated the funding for.
“South Wales Police have again confirmed that no criminal investigation is necessary, while the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales, Audit Wales and the Adjudication Panel for Wales have all indicated that no further actions are required.
“I hope that this will serve to underline the fact that this was an unfortunate one-off incident, and that steps have already been taken to prevent it from ever reoccurring.
“The council and its partners will now focus firmly upon supporting residents living in households affected by the failed insulation works, and in putting the situation right for them.”
South Wales Police have been approached for a comment.
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