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Rowell escapes censure in Undercliff probe

Two have been dismissed, another retired early and two more have resigned over procurement irregularities in procuring High-Point Rendel to work on the controversial £13M Undercliff Drive project.

Two phases of work given to High-Point Rendell failed to comply with EU procurement regulations and Contract Standing orders according to the official report:

"stem from a complex interaction between factors such as inadequate training, incompetence, a failure to comply with Council systems and procedures, poor supervision and inadequate checks and balances," for the controversial Undercliff project in the Isle of Wight. Former strategic director Derek Rowell has escaped serious criticism due to his ill-health.

The official inquiry into irregular procurement to develop the Undercliff Drive project on the Isle of Wight makes, "uncomfortable reading in that it highlights there were widespread and systematic failings in the council's systems," according to Isle of Wight council chief executive Joe Duckworth.

In total, seven officers were suspended:

Finance director Paul Wilkinson, guilty of "omission. It was what he did not do, rather than anything he did, which was the cause for criticism," and will retire early without pension enhancements.

Head of legal services John Lawson was found guilty of "serious misconduct", and his contract was terminated, which Lawson is appealing.

Strategic director Derek Rowell, who had, "ultimate responsibility for the engineering services department," had done much to identify failings, but had "not actually done anything to regularise [the] matter". Rowell has been allowed to "resign his employment with immediate effect."

Occupation heath advisor, Stephen Matthews had, "failed to comply with even the most basic requirements in terms of procurement, contracting or financial arrangements," and has been dismissed.

Purchasing manager John Spencer was criticised for turning "a blind eye," to the need to procure phase 2. He was disciplined but has returned to work.

Compliance manager Bob Streets, "suffered from a distinct lack of any line management from Mr Wilkinson," and has returned to work under a different role.

Nick Gallin had day-to-day responsibility for the Undercliff project but was one of the most junior officers. He resigned on 23 February 2007, but "Had Mr Gallin not resigned we would have recommended that he face disciplinary action".

Duckworth said, "But that the scale of the short-comings was so great confirms to me that the decision to hold such a painstaking and independent investigation was most certainly the right one.

"But it is crucial that we now learn the lessons from this unfortunate episode. It is our duty to Islanders to ensure that we operate to the highest standards of probity and within clear procurement frameworks to ensure we do not find ourselves in this position again."

"These recommendations will now be carefully studied and implemented where necessary. However I believe significant steps have already been taken by the council to bolster processes that clearly needed strengthening.

"Last week for example, the IW Council approved a new Procurement and Contracts Code. This gives clear guidance on all aspects of procurement and, had it been in place and followed at the time the problems with the Undercliff arose, then I am sure we would now not be in the position we are," he said.

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