Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Folk Festival Enquiry Published

The final report of the Councillor-led enquiry into the Folk Festival ticketing fiasco enquiry has just been published, and will be reported to next weeks Civic Affairs committee at the City Council.

A previous internal enquiry found serious failings in the Arts and Entertainment department - and it is fair to say that this department in general, and folk festival ticket sales in particular is now one of the most scrutinised in the Council.

But Councillors were keen to know what wider lessons should be learnt. We were promised an independent external enquiry, but instead a Councillor-lead enquiry was setup. Labour refused to sit on this enquiry (as it wasn't the promised external enquiry), which meant that I was able to step in and be part of the committee.

As part of this, we read a lot of evidence from the initial enquiry, and spent three afternoons interviewing staff, from the Chief Executive down - having been through this, I don't feel that there is anything more I could learn about the situation - the picture of what went wrong and how £650k of taxpayers money came to be lost is now pretty clear.

With hindsight, it is immensely frustrating to see what happened, because as well as the main problems within Arts and Entertainments, several departments in the Council were aware and could have stopped the problem, all of these came very close to stopping the problem, but they never quite managed to push the emergency stop button.

Concerns weren't escalated appropriately - so some senior people weren't involved as soon as they should have been - nobody blew the whistle.

Nobody stepped back from the situation that was unfolding around the time the most disastrous decisions were made, and looked at the bigger picture - or considered all the options available.

Finally, the nature of the relationship between service departments and those given professional advice was very unclear - nobody seemed to know if advice was guidance or mandatory, who was responsible if advice turned out to be wrong, or if it wasn't followed as intended.

In summary, the Councillor lead enquiry revealed that problems were not confined to just one department at the Council - all managers at the Council need to rethink risk management - how they identify and respond to risks to taxpayers interests, and those providing advice and support need to make it clear who is responsible for the outcome of their advice, and to make sure that even if it is not acted on, the possible consequences are made clear.

My final thought on the process is a wider and more political one - the Council generally does not put first and foremost the Council taxpayer - it appears services are delivered without always thinking where the money has come from, and when this goes wrong, it is the taxpayer who picks up the bill. And to this extent, the Council is taking its lead from the politicians who are responsible for setting the tone in the policies they make. It remains remarkable that after such a series of failings resulting in a £650,000 loss to the taxpayer, none of the Liberal Democrats running the Council have felt the need to resign over this.

1 comment:

Frugal Dougal said...

I hope, as the Cambridge News says, that a "plan B" is set up - it would be a great shame to lose this internationally famous festival.