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'Total naivety' led to Dorset waste overspend

Lax financial controls and disregard of procurement rules left councils in Dorset bearing the cost of a £2.8m overspend on their waste operation.

A report prepared for an 11 March meeting of the Dorset Waste Partnership board – which comprises Dorset County Council and its districts – found that until recently there was “precious little evidence of robust processes to manage finances within the business”.

Dorset will bear the largest share at £1.8m but all districts must find six-figure sums.

The overspend was revealed when it was announced that partnership director Steve Burdis had been suspended while the matter was investigated. The county said the suspension was not “prejudging the outcome” of procedures.

The report, by technical consultancy WYG, said the partnership’s troubles arose largely from a decision to hire waste disposal vehicles for which there was no budget.

This was based on “a naïve assumption…that savings made by deferring purchase would cover the hire costs, but they do not”.

WYG went on: “It is clear to us, from our interviews at depots, that the local managers have authority to commit to significant items of expenditure…but they have no budgetary responsibilities and are not given statements of expenditure, let alone a comparison with budgets.”

The report noted: “From our meetings we are unclear as to whether the senior [partnership] managers accept that they have a responsibility for budget management or whether they think that that is what the finance staff do.”

The vehicles chosen were found to be inappropriate for some tasks required and managers showed “a total naivety to the choice of vehicles”.

“It should have been obvious that Dorset is very much not a situation where one size of vehicles would suit all locations, and we are staggered that anybody could have thought it would be the case,” the report said.

Staff costs accounted for an element of the overspend. WYG said it had been unable to find process for routinely reporting or measuring the amount of overtime worked each week. And sickness absence policies were “rather generous” and did “little to promote a culture of high attendance”.

However, WYG praised the partnership for having successfully diverted significant volumes of waste from landfill to recycling and composting.

Even with the overspend, there were savings compared with the operation as delivered by individual councils before the partnership was formed, it said.

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