Corruption covers the offering, giving, soliciting or acceptance of an inducement or
reward, which may influence the action of any person who has power entrusted to
In October 2013, Transparency International UK produced a report entitled
“Corruption in Local Government: The Mounting Risks”. Transparency
International describe themselves as the “world’s leading non-governmental anticorruption organisation”, who “raise awareness about corruption . . . and act as a
leading centre of anti-corruption expertise in the UK”.
The report warns that an unintended consequence of changes such as those in
the Localism Act and those proposed in the Local Audit and Accountability Bill
may be to create an enabling environment for corruption. It claims to have
identified 16 areas where it finds a “marked decline in the robustness of local
government to resist corruption”. The report considers that the areas break down
into 2 main areas:-
i) Audit arrangements, where it is concerned about the end of the Audit
Commission to support internal and external audit functions, and the
possible watering down of anti-fraud and corruption capacity, and
potential corruption of new external auditors appointed under the new
ii) New arrangements for the conduct of elected members, since the
abolition of Standards for England, and the reduced statutory
requirements around both audit and standards committees.
UNITE asked questions about this report at a recent Full Council meeting. Officers
do not see increased fraud and corruption risk at Somerset County Council as a
result of these national changes. We have been advised that a number of Audit
Commission functions, such as the National Fraud Initiative, will continue under
the Cabinet Office in the future.
Where the 16 report areas are addressable locally as opposed to nationally, the
County Council has suitable arrangements in place to address them. Key points
include our Constitution, with full and independent committees (Audit and
Standards in particular), with a direct reporting line back to Full Council. The
structural independence of the South West Audit Partnership removes much of
the report’s concerns about management or member ability to unduly influence
investigative activity. Both our current and proposed Anti-Fraud and Corruption
Policy address further concerns within the Transparency International report about
an organisation’s tolerance and responses to suspected cases of fraud or
corruption. Anonymity of reporting, and therefore protection of a whistle-blower
are explicit within our Policy.
(Audit Committee – 17 January 2014)
It is also worth noting that the report itself acknowledges that experts hold widely
different views about the scale and prevalence of corruption in local government,
and it gives no empirical evidence at all on this point.
UNITE recently referred to this report in further questions asked to Full Council,
where they wanted the County Council to acknowledge (as indicated in the report)
that particular risks of corruption in local government include:
a) Public procurement at needs assessment stage;
b) Public procurement at bid design stage;
c) Public procurement at award stage;
d) Public procurement at contract implementation stage;
e) Control and accountability over outsourced services;
f) The revolving door of personnel between local authorities and private
companies bidding to provide services;
g) Planning discretion and influence regarding permissions to build decisions;
h) Planning discretion and influence regarding “change of use” decisions.
Clearly, the list above would indeed be potential risks of corruption for any local
government organisation to consider, although not all of the planning decisions
would impact on, say, a County Council.
However, having carried out the Protecting The Public Purse review, (Appendix
A), officers are confident that we do have the necessary procurement controls in
place to carry out this process in accordance with OJEU legislation, (where
appropriate), Contract Standing Orders, risk prevention, “best practice”, and with
adequate confidentiality and segregation of duties during the procurement
process. The new procurement processes through our dedicated software system
(Pro Contract) is only going to strengthen our controls. The County Council also
has dedicated contract management staff in place to ensure that the performance
of any outsourced functions are delivered in accordance with the contract.
Whilst both the Director of Finance and Performance and the Strategic Manager –
Financial Governance have investigated complaints against our procurement
processes, these have remained entirely unsubstantiated claims, primarily from
There is no evidence that Somerset County Council has been subjected to any
corruptive behaviour in the procurement matters outlined above, and no evidence
that any given level of outsourcing has resulted in an increase in corruption as a
result. However, officers will continue to consider these risks when undertaking
procurements, and will consider assurance around procurement when proposing
future internal audit plans.