Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Last month, a senior opposition councillor stated in a council meeting that a report to the police will be made regarding fraud and corruption surrounding the Vecteo contract.
Vecteo won the contract to transport SEND children across Southend, which they apparently have failed to do sufficiently.
Questions were raised about the morality of the 50/50 profit-share between Vecteo and the Council: Should the council be profiting from SEND children?
He highlighted that the business plan never showed Vecteo to be making a profit in the first place and said that the leader of the council signed off on monies that they were not authorised to do.
Corruption vs Incompetence
As a member of the public, it is quite disconcerting to hear the opposition raise such serious allegations.
When I think of corruption, I think of national politics, not corruption on our doorstep.
I am naive enough to believe there is not an old boys club, equivalent to the Eton set, ruling Southend, and so jobs for the boys I cannot believe is something that happens here.
Having dealt with many supplier contracts, I do know that however watertight the contract, no one can predict what that supplier will do.
References from other users of that business are helpful.
Good personal relationships are helpful.
A promise a product that appears great and can be bespoke to needs is reassuring.
A strong reputation helps trust.
Strict reprimands in the contract are comforting, but none of this guarantees anything.
If a company turns out to be poor then that is sometimes the way it goes, and all the due diligence in the world won’t be able to change that.
I do not believe that corruption took place nor do I believe the council and council officers consciously broke any laws.
However, I have been let down on many occasions, often by people you would never think would do so, therefore, just because I believe this to be the case, I reserve judgment on any investigation that takes place.
I am not sure as to the reporting process of these kinds of allegations, and whether the councillor has followed it correctly.
It does seem odd that something like this should be made so public given the risk to reputational damage. As a believer in transparency, I would ask why shouldn’t it be? It is our money that is at stake after all, and I was glad I knew.
From the perspective of the director of Vecteo, and perhaps most of us if it we were in their position, there ought to have been respect to which this sensitive information was handled because even if the accusations turn out to be unfounded, the damage is long-lasting.
If the councillor was following the correct procedure, he did do a tremendous job integrating the facts as he knew them. This kind of scrutiny is exactly what is required rather than passive acceptance of so-called facts.
Even if nothing comes of it and all was in fact in order, he has asked the questions while putting himself on the line - not an easy position but to be commended all the same.
In the subsequent Shareholder meeting held on 12th October, the council, as a 49% shareholder in Vecteo, had one of the council officers recently attend one of their board meetings.
He relayed information regarding the recent service improvements, having received 'no complaints' of late and 'quite a few compliments'.
The service they were providing, by their own admission, went wrong and their team had brought it off the floor.
Unfortunately, he began to refer to the serious financial allegations ‘made’ by the councillor in previous meetings and in an article in the Oracle.
Firstly, he mentioned that the councillor himself signed off the Vecteo contract in 2019.
In response, the councillor accepted he did sign it, but he did not ‘sign it off’; the Cabinet as a collective approve decisions, not an individual.
It just so happens that he signed it, where there were in fact two other cabinet members who put their signatures to it.
Because the council officer failed to mention this, the councillor felt he was purposeless singled out and claimed ‘harassment’.
Secondly, in terms of the allegations about fraud and corruption, the councillor did not take too well when he was being accused of ‘directly’ making the allegations himself.
He was merely the ‘recipient’ of the allegations made by the whistle-blower, and he was not, therefore, the person that ‘directly’ made them.
There is no question that anyone in a position of power, such as a Councillor, must take with the utmost seriousness any allegation brought to their attention.
Aside from the ethical obligation, if it was found at a later date that the councillor knew and chose to ignore it, that might indeed make him complicit. In that sense he had no choice.
It did make ugly watching and I think matters such as these belong in another forum. It was most odd that the council officer chose to act as the Vecteo board's middleman when relaying to the shareholder board they will take legal action against anyone who wishes to make any further public statements, and that their board say it is 'simply not true'.
Despite the council officer stating that nothing will come of it, the allegations are still currently being investigated.
Watch the meeting: https://southend.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/708465