'Someone is responsible for council spending £23m on office block'
Simon Allin, local democracy reporter
- Credit: Google
Questions remain over who botched a multi-million pound Haringey Council property deal, after a report into the purchase was challenged.
The report into the £22.6million acquisition of Alexandra House in Wood Green – which was bought by the council last year for twice its value – was criticised by councillors looking to find out who was at fault for the huge overspend.
The Liberal Democrat opposition slammed the council for “wasting taxpayers’ money” when the Ham&High revealed that the local authority missed an earlier opportunity to buy the building for £10.1m.
A report by audit firm Mazars later revealed the governance arrangement to manage the acquisition of Alexandra House was “weak”.
Minesh Jani, the council’s head of audit and risk management, outlined the report’s findings to a meeting of the corporate committee on Tuesday before taking questions from councillors.
Cllr Joseph Ejiofor – who was council leader when the deal took place – asked whether there was “any evidence whatsoever that the chief executive or the leader at the time were ever informed that the property was available to buy”.
Mr Jani replied that Mazars “found no evidence that the leader or chief executive at the time were aware of the decision not to purchase Alexandra House”.
The audit head said his reading of the report was that there were “references to the purchase of Alexandra House, but they were part of an incidental report which was not really structured in a way that would allow anyone to form a view that we were seriously considering buying this asset”.
Mr Jani added that there was no business case for purchasing the building. He said the report showed that processes in place at the time did not provide clarity over what should have been done.
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He added that “accountability essentially rests with management on this”.
Cllr Mark Blake said: “I would like much greater clarity in terms of who is responsible for what and where the buck stops.”
Cllr Preston Tabois said: “To me, it was just a plain case of processes not being followed, and somebody needs to be held responsible.”
Following the debate in public, the committee moved into a private session to discuss the report in further detail.
The council now says it has made improvements in response to the audit report’s findings.