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Scarborough sea defence probe triggers disciplinary action

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A SENIOR Scarborough Borough Council official has received a final written warning after awarding engineering consultancy contracts in breach of European Union law, it emerged this week.

The written warning was issued to capital strategy and procurement manager John Riby, who was also stripped of his procurement responsibilities.

Scarborough chief executive John Trebble has also retired early so he can avoid an investigation into his involvement in the decision to award the contracts to High Point Rendel.

Reasons for Trebble's retirement and details of the disciplinary action against Riby emerged last week as the council published a report into the way it had managed its Castle Headland sea defence project.

The investigation, carried out by local government advisor Richard Penn in June 2005, was in response to an Audit Commission investigation into the Castle Headland coastal defence project. This found contracts had been illegally awarded to High Point Rendel (NCE 16/30 December 2005).

Penn's report considered whether fire council officials should face disciplinary action, but was kept under wraps.

Last week the council decided that publication could help restore public confidence after several leaks to the media.

Penn highlighted Trebble's failure to 'ensure that he was fully informed throughout key stages of a major procurement exercise'. Penn also noted Trebble's failure to 'establish and operate effectively appropriate management control systems that would have enabled organisational concerns relating to the council's contract procedures to be raised in a timely and effective manner'.

A council spokeswoman said that Trebble had decided to retire early rather than go through a lengthy disciplinary process. He stepped down on 31 December.

Penn's report criticised Riby for 'failing to properly follow the council's procurement procedures, secure best value for the council and fully involve appropriate officers of the council during procurement.' Three other officials left the council before the investigation was conducted. These are former director of technical services Derek Rowell, former director of corporate services Trevor Teasdale and former head of legal services Philip Newell.

'It may well be that members of the council and the public at large consider that former employees of the council should be called to account for their involvement in the matter, but this is simply not possible, ' says the report.

Disciplinary action can only be taken against current employees of the council. Only two current employees in that sense are eligible for potential disciplinary action, ' states the report, which was written before Trebble retired.

Rowell has since moved to the Isle of Wight where he is currently strategic director of environmental services. A spokesman for the council said it had reviewed the Penn report prior to it being made public and had no concerns about Rowell.

Teasdale and Newell retired in 2004.

Bernadette Redfern INFOPLUS View the report at www. nceplus. co. uk

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