'Lesson learned' on �348,000 legal bill
COUNCILLORS have approved a raft of measures aimed at preventing an authority from facing spiralling legal costs in the future.It comes after a government investigation revealed that a lack of control over spending on advice from solicitors had landed Waveney District Council with a legal bill for nearly �350,000 to defend proposals to sell off two caravan parks.
COUNCILLORS have approved a raft of measures aimed at preventing an authority from facing spiralling legal costs in the future.
It comes after a government investigation revealed that a lack of control over spending on advice from solicitors had landed Waveney District Council with a legal bill for nearly �350,000 to defend proposals to sell off two caravan parks.
An Audit Commission report into the council's payments to lawyers during the saga about attempts to offload caravan parks at North Denes, Lowestoft, and at Southwold Harbour, to private operators concluded that the authority did not fully consider whether continuing with the proposals offered value for money for council tax payers.
The report, which was discussed by the council's audit and risk management committee on Monday, said the council should have exerted more control over spending on external legal advice, which reached a total of �348,000 after public opposition on issues concerning ownership and access to the sites.
The report said: “Other than an initial estimate at the start of the process of �20,000, there is no evidence of projected costs being requested from the external legal advisers and there appears to have been limited consideration within the council of the value for money aspects of proceeding with the disposals.
“No overall budget was set for each disposal and there was limited monitoring of the reasons for the increasing expenditure. Neither was there clear overall monitoring and reporting which linked initial aims to timescales and financial matters.”
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Councillors unanimously approved the recommendations outlined in the report at the meeting.
Of the nine recommendations that have been made by the commission investigators, including drawing up a formal process for incurring legal costs and obtaining detailed forecasts of costs before commissioning legal advice, six have already been put in place by the council and the other three are due to be adopted by this autumn.
The council's assistant chief executive Arthur Charvonia told councillors: “I think the lesson we have learned, which is reflected in the recommendations and comments as well, is to make sure we keep a closer eye on these things as they move through.”
He added: “We need to be vigilant to make sure there is a rolling review of any such project to make sure if anything does change significantly it is brought back to members to decide if they either do or do not wish to proceed.”
Waveney council is seeking a new private operator for the North Denes site after a holiday firm pulled out of a deal.